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Don't do what I did - I did my best, but they ran me ragged

My advice is recognise your limitations, know your rights and ensure you belong to a union before you set foot in a classroom as an NQT.

Years ago I was assigned to an inner city nursery class with 36 children from two and a half to four and a nursery nurse with severe asthma.

The head was a sour-spirited autocrat who creamed off the nursery's per capita allowance to buy football kit for the juniors, leaving my class ill-equipped and neglected. His deputy was a mousy acolyte anxious to do his slightest bidding.

I was fresh from a PGCE where I had learned virtually nothing since the tutors were on a rest cure from teaching and resented us students as an interruption to their leisure. My second day on the job, word arrived that my assistant was absent, so I'd have to manage on my own. How naive I was. Of course I could manage. Why not?

I soon discovered why not as 36 little people sized up the situation. I did my best, but they ran me ragged. Sparring broke out, agile bodies scaled the curtains, miscreants poured milk into the goldfish tank and banged out a cacophony on the piano. To make matters worse, my bladder was nearly bursting.

When lunch was wheeled in I begged the kitchen staff to alert the head. In flounced the deputy. "What is your problem?" she snapped. "I'm afraid I can't manage all these children on my own," I replied. "In that case you are clearly incompetent," she retorted, "and I shall say as much to Mr Stanley."

I braced myself, "I daresay you are right, Miss Smart, so before there is an accident I will withdraw and leave you to take over, since you are obviously so much more capable and experienced."

I rushed to the toilet, then I phoned the NUT, took out membership and was given a stack of advice and ammunition. And I survived.

Gill Tweed is an ex-nursery teacher from London.

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