Nuts and bolts of teaching

They say troubles come in threes. First our shower decided to create a waterfall effect through the kitchen ceiling. Then, midway through diving to prevent my child from wearing a bowl of Weetabix, I knocked our iPad on to the kitchen floor and smashed the screen. Mindful that a third disaster was on its way, I drove into school on the last day of the holidays hoping that I wouldn't find a broken computer or flooded sink.

I didn't. There was no computer; there was no sink. Instead there were walls that glistened with wet paint, a ceiling with dangling wires and a recently poured concrete floor.

"We're hoping to have it more or less finished off for the start of term," the caretaker told me. I gulped. The start of term was three days away. The school corridors were crowded with men brandishing paintbrushes and screwdrivers, the playground was full of cement mixers and rubble and the air was filled with the aroma of fresh tar and the gentle hum of a pneumatic drill.

The day before the children were due in, things had improved but were still a long way from ready. We now had a sink, a carpet and a few shelves but no boards to write on. And you couldn't touch anything without encountering yet more wet paint.

At the staff meeting, the annual reminders were administered: "Reading, writing, maths. Give them a sound grounding in the basics and they're all set up for success." Looking around me I wondered whether we should add basic plumbing and electrics to the list. I'm surrounded by people who excelled in reading, writing and maths at school but they're no use when I need a shower mended or an iPad screen fixed. My own technical skills are non-existent. I may have a handle on apostrophes but I failed to wire a plug at school, and when my car engine starts rattling I just turn the radio up.

Luckily I don't need these skills for teaching and when (by some minor miracle) we found ourselves installed in the classroom at the start of term, it turned out you can get along fine with a couple of sheets of paper Blu-Tacked to the wall and a few cardboard boxes in lieu of coat pegs. Even the intermittent drilling outside the window did little to dampen the enthusiasm with which the children filled out their passports to their new class, detailing their talents and hopes for the future.

If all goes to plan, I am fostering a large number of future footballers, a couple of lawyers, a policeman, some vets, several pop stars and film actresses and, surprisingly, three teachers. Not one of them has ambitions to become an engineer, a builder, an electrician or a plumber.

I hope that somewhere along the line some of them change their minds. The vocational path may still be viewed by some as inferior to an extended stay in academia, but when the new term is just a few days away and your classroom is still without a floor, it's unlikely to be your Oxbridge-bound alumni that you have on speed dial.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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