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A merciful mishap

"Laughing at Aleesha for falling off her chair is not kind; she might have been hurt. You should never take pleasure in the misfortune of others," I tell my students. Then I fail to heed my own advice by adding: "Mind you, no one would have reason to laugh at her if she hadn't been rocking backwards on it, would they?"

"Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone," said poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. But she should have said that when you weep, the world laughs even more. It is a well-known fact that nothing is more uplifting to the human spirit than the knowledge that someone else is less fortunate than you are. The misery of others always helps to put our suffering into perspective.

It is nearing the end of a long day and Aleesha is not the only one feeling sorry for herself. So are all the teachers. Even now they are looking around their classrooms in the same way that earthquake survivors look around the ruins of their homes.

With a heavy heart, each one gazes upon a scene of devastation. All about them are unruly piles of unmarked books, torn displays in need of emergency repair, bookcases in desperate disarray and a sink that should be cordoned off with hazard warning tape until the Environment Agency arrives.

"Get on top of things lest things get on top of you" is the golden rule of being a primary teacher. But applying it is another matter. Two hours of determined effort after the children have gone home would put things right, but it just isn't going to happen. By then we will have abandoned our classrooms and taken that weary journey to the Twilight Zone (aka the school hall) to have our teaching improved.

Replacing one training day with a couple of after-hours twilight training sessions seemed like a good idea when we were planning the school diary at the beginning of the year. It seemed an even better idea when we were enjoying that extra Christmas shopping day in December. It seems less sensible now, at the end of a tiring afternoon.

The future, as far as this evening is concerned, looks bleak. Then, just two minutes before the end of school, a miracle occurs. A message arrives from the office. Joy leaps like a salmon against the tide of despondency. On a thin strip of paper, in capital letters, are the words "TWILIGHT TRAINING CANCELLED". The word "CANCELLED" has been underlined to reinforce our belief that good things do happen to ordinary teachers.

It is not until later that we discover the awful truth. Our happiness comes at the expense of someone else's misery. Ms Boudicca (our headteacher) has written off her car and can't get in to school. It is bad news indeed. And although it is tempered by the fact that she is uninjured, my reaction was never justified. Punching the air and yelling "Get in, you beauty" was simply the wrong thing to do.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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