The soothing joys of July

Joan Fenton

THERE must have been some mistake. Whoever drew up the configuration of this school year clearly did not realise that the month of July is sacrosanct, untainted by the s-word.

Don't they know that the first week of the holidays should be spent lying on the settee, enduring death by tennis, out-calling the umpire and hoping for a racquet-throwing tantrum? But, we made it nevertheless - the last few weeks a pleasant wind down, with happy, fulfilled pupils and smiley, energetic teachers all sharing jokes and play pieces. Yeah, right.

It's a pity that the end of the school year coincides with discussion about arrangements for the new one, spoiling everything. Speculation about who's getting what class takes over the staffroom and teachers begin to put a gloss on descriptions of their kids as the prospect of never having to teach them again ever in their entire lives begins to be a possibility.

I asked the primary 1 teacher how she thought her class had done this year and she reported very good progress. She was pleased with the way they had settled and was even prepared to say that one child, who had deaved her all year, was "really a lovely boy". When I asked if she was willing to take them on into primary 2, she yelped: "Oh my God, I'll go off my head!"

I am tempted to suggest that all teachers move class area every year so they are forced to empty their cupboards. Declaring an amnesty will never produce the same amount of anonymously returned items to the resources room.

In the last week, the primary 7s treated us all to a talent show, which turned out to be infinitely better than the two weeks of lunchtime rehearsals in the music room next to my office. Eventually I asked the name of the song that they daily murdered, stretching my one remaining nerve to its limit, and I was informed that it was called "Annoying the Neighbours" by Moby. I could see why.

Their young teacher put me straight with the song title and told me that the kids had renamed it themselves after a house party.

Inevitably, there were interviews at the last gasp, this year for a special needs auxiliary post. I was interested to meet the candidate who, according to her referee, had been "attached to a wheelchair-bound pupil" in his school. There were no visible rope burns.

In the first weeks of the holidays I expect the memory to fade of sallying up to the school board chair on sports day, intending to tell him that the activity involving throwing a rubber boot into a hoop was called Welly Wanging by the kids. A slip of the tongue and the change of vowel in welly turned my description of the event into something that is definitely not a spectator sport.

Since the holiday fund was raided and severely depleted to pay for painting the outside of the house, I will relax on the patio for the whole six weeks, well out of soft-landing range of anyone up a ladder, and bring a whole new meaning to "watching paint dry".

If I half-close my eyes, the garden will become an Alan Titchmarsh green haze, the bees will hum around me and the house martins will swoop, adding their own brand of decoration to the house and surrounds.

If I was the type, I might even allow myself to feel a little sanctimonious about having already written the standards and quality report, but I will be keeping that quiet at the risk of receiving hate mail from headteacher colleagues.

Ever an optimist, I know that there will be very few days when we will have wall-to-wall Aberdeenshire grey weather, but I have brought home with me the not insignificant "for reading" tray for such an eventuality.

My July reading strategy is honed to perfection - first I throw away draft or consultation documents or any that are past their sell-by date. If there are summaries I read them first, and then conclusions of full reports. It is crucial to highlight any pieces of text that catch my eye to indicate that the document has passed through my hands, in case I mistakenly read it again.

And so the weeks will drift happily by, the ultimate aim being to get to the point when I wake up one morning and I have no idea what day it is. And I don't care, as long as it's nowhere near the middle of August.

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Joan Fenton

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