I arrived at my first school to be told there wasn't a job after all...

Mike Kent

I arrived at my first school to be told there wasn't a job after all - the local authority had made a mistake. I was still there on the Friday

It's September and I've got three new teachers, all newly qualified. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and as I chat with them my mind leaps back 40 years to my first week in the classroom. In those days you picked an area and applied to its education office, which sent you to a school with a vacancyI Monday. I arrive at my school to be told there isn't a job after all. The local authority has made a mistake, but if I wait in the staffroom the head will sort things out. By 11.30, I'm still there. The head says sorry, it's the first day of term and things are busy, but if I go back to the staffroom he'll phone right now. By lunchtime, the LEA lines are still busy. He'll try this afternoon. I remain in the staffroom, looking keen and reading a book on educational philosophy. People passing through the room smile cautiously, wondering who I am. By home time, I've finished the book and think it might be worthwhile starting War and Peace.

Tuesday. The head hasn't talked with the LEA, but that's not surprising, he says, because it's often three days into the new term before telephone contact can be made. However, Class 4 is going to the Tower of London this morning, and help would be appreciated, so would I like to go? When we arrive, I'm allocated six children, none of whom behaves particularly well, and when we return to school I feel like an exhausted tourist. The head approaches as I devour a hasty sandwich. Would I go back to the Tower this afternoon? It's just that Class 3 is going and Mrs Smith likes help with the difficult ones on outings. I have the feeling it's not an offer I'm allowed to refuse. My group includes Andrew, who darts off every few minutes, desperate to spend his two shillings. When we return, Andrew's satchel bulges suspiciously with artefacts he says he "bought". I sleep restlessly that night.

Wednesday. The head has talked to the LEA, but no vacancies yet. I'm to wait in the staffroom while he finds me something to do. I've forgotten my book, so I complete the crossword in a tatty Woman's Own. An elderly teacher nips in for a quick smoke. Her Year 6 class is across the corridor, she tells me, and they won't miss her for 10 minutes. She asks why I chose this career, and says she can't wait to finish hers. She doesn't like the head; far too young, and he favours all this fashionable Plowden topic-based nonsense. Indignantly, she tells me how he threw away all her history books. "Had 'em 30 years and I bloody well wasn't having that, so my children climbed in the bins and fetched 'em out again." I make a discreet exit, and meet the head in the corridor. He sends me to the dinner hall to help out. I stand about like a wet lettuce, not understanding the rites and rituals of dinner duty.

Thursday. The head has been sent some visit vouchers for the Tower of London. Class 2 is going this morning, so it would be useful if I went along. And Class 7 will be going this afternoon. Could I help with them too? I look on the bright side. After all, I'm learning a lot about ravens.

Friday. The head talks to the LEA, and they still don't know what to do with me. Could the school keep me, and they'll foot the bill? The deputy head feels sorry for me and suggests I have her class, and she becomes non-teaching. I'm very excited as I meet the children and explain all the interesting things I'm going to do with them. Which won't include visiting the Tower of London.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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