The sink plunger is mine, young man...

Kevin Berry

Twenty years ago Smithy took me on one side. I was a young teacher and had just completed my first week. He gave me one or two tips and then he showed me the contents of his tool box. I knew from his manner that I ought to feel privileged.

I was never to tell any of our colleagues about it, he said. He hated being pestered, hated other teachers wanting to borrow his things. Smithy's Tool Box contained: 1. Pliers. Potentially the most useful classroom tool. Excellent for nails, pins or glass in children's shoes. Also include tweezers for smaller items. Both these are very good when you have a jammed staple machine.

2. A small multi-tool set. Get the type with a selection of spanner and screwdriver heads, plus a metal pipe cleaner. More useful in a classroom than a Swiss Army knife.

3. Chalk. Not the little sticks of chalk designed for writing, but the huge, long, strong pieces. They are brilliant for absorbing ink and other fluid stains.

4. Tiny screwdrivers. In case a child's spectacles break (and spare screws, taken from old specs) Plus black sticky tape, for broken spec arms.

5. A sink plunger. The agony of a blocked sink with lots of paint and implements still to clean. You may not be able to find the caretaker when you need him or her. No teacher hould be without a plunger.

6. A long screwdriver. Good for levering and easing tiny things out of machines.

7. A set of safety pins. In case of torn clothing or snapped elastic.

8. A small pack of fuse wire and some wire cutters. Not for fuse repair but very good for quick repairs around the classroom.

9. A quality clothes brush. Children will always reach for a damp cloth if they spill something on clothing and the resulting stain could anger parents.

All of Smithy's tools covered potentially disruptive or time-wasting incidents. His own classroom was always an ocean of calm, disruptions were kept to an absolute minimum.

"Get your own things," snapped Smithy, when he put his tool box away. "Don't expect me to lend you mine. No offence young man, but I don't want to be in a situation when I need my sink plunger and I have to send a child to get it."

Good point. That night I bought my own tool box and filed it with the tools that Smithy had recommended. I added a can of lubricating spray, for good measure - marvellous for easing tight container lids, unjamming anorak zips and stopping annoying squeaks.

In the 20 years since I met Smithy, I have found that the teachers with the calmest classrooms always have their own toolbox.

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Kevin Berry

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