Cheryl is a coat loser of Olympian quality

Mike Kent

Give her a new coat and she'll lose it by playtime. Along with her lunchbox. And her earrings

Another year. How quickly your life disappears. As the last week of the summer holiday fades away, I mentally travel the ups and downs of the past year, just as I do every September. Still, only two years to retirement. Not long at all. I remember the horrors of the window refurbishment, the way we ploughed on through dust, dirt, constant hammering and sawing, workmen swearing loudly when they hit a problem, the annoyance of moving classes out of their rooms every five minutes, and having the building shrouded in plastic during temperatures that shot off the thermometer. But not only did my wonderful teachers plough on with grim determination, we achieved our best SATs results ever. Perhaps we ought to have the windows refurbished every yearI I remember the aggressive parents. You always remember them. Only three this year, but alien encounters stay with you for days. I remember Anthony's dad in particular, a fearsome gent with eyes pointing in opposite directions and a permanent sneer. He charged in on a wet Monday morning, demanding to know why Anthony's teacher had made fun of him and kicked him off his chair. It took half an hour to calm him down, and another two meetings before he realised his son had made up the story, probably because he liked winding his dad up and pointing him in the direction of the school. Never mind, only two years to go.

I remember the piles of lost clothing. Expensive coats, jumpers, jackets that children leave everywhere apart from the peg with their name on. Cheryl in particular. Cheryl is a coat loser of Olympian quality. Give her a new coat and she'll lose it by playtime. Along with her lunchbox. And her earrings. Even if she gives her earrings to the teacher while she's doing PE, she loses them as soon as the teacher gives them back. It runs in the family, because her mum often loses Cheryl. She'll wander all over the school at hometime calling her name, and Cheryl will be wherever her mum isn't.

I remember the horrifying phone bill. Our computer suite was up and running and we'd paid BT our subscription for unlimited internet school use. Unfortunately, our equipment provider had screwed up and we were connected to the net continuously. My stomach somersaulted when a phone bill for nearly pound;800 arrived after three months. I pulled out the ISDN line and told the staff the internet wasn't a viable option for the children. Still, if my budget goes haywire, I'm retiring soon.

I remember the expense of repainting the toilets, hoping that the children would take more care of them. They did, for two months, until somebody scrawled "sex me up Charlie" into the paintwork with a pair of scissors. And the toilets reminded me of the day I was visited by the leader of the religious group using my school on Sundays. He came to thank me, and he came bearing giftsI three plastic bags full of toilet rolls. And that, in turn, reminded me of the summer play, and the poor infant who was caught short while jammed into our small hall with the rest of his class. He didn't have time to rush outside. God knows what he'd eaten, but his bowels had given up the struggle. Fortunately, it was only the dress rehearsal.

I remember, too, the amusing, worrying and fascinating moments. Georgia singing solo in the school play, her voice captivating us all; Siva placing a large packet of chocolate digestive biscuits on the dinner table, saying his mum had given him packed lunch money so this is what he'd bought; the delights of Poetry Week, our best ever, and the pleasure of the staff at seeing our children so enthusiastic about something that might last into their adult lives; Tashi writing her own "Greek myth" which was as good as anything a fifth-former could produce; Andy inventing a guitar run in the middle of my guitar lesson and the others applauding, open- mouthed in admiration; tiny Emefa from reception, slipping her hand in mine as I walked down the corridor and telling me how much she loved school. And my delightful staff who are such a pleasure to work with. Not for much longer though, because I'm retiring in two years.


Mike Kent is Head of Comber Grove primary in Camberwell, south London.Email:

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