You can tell how seriously ill an absent teacher is by whether or not they still have to set cover. As a rule of thumb, if you phone in complaining of projectile vomiting, diarrhoea or common-or-garden flu, you are either a hypochondriac or swinging the lead, and an email containing four-part lesson plans, with a range of plenary loops, will be expected by the end of morning registration. There are a few illnesses which make you exempt from this: terminal cancer, full-blown Aids or necrotising fasciitis.
So after my bastard husband left me, my kids and the sausage dinner last week, my HoD set my cover for a fortnight. That puts my marital trauma right up there with the Ebola virus and Black Death.
While my colleagues were minding my classes, I stayed at home and scrubbed surfaces with the help of Mr Muscle and The Best of R.E.M. It's amazing how cathartic a bit of cleaning can be. If only Sylvia Plath had had a pair of Marigolds and a reliable detergent, then she might have settled for scouring the oven instead of putting her head in it.
While I swabbed and polished my entire house, Interflora delivered bouquet after bouquet of Scents of Spring and Sunlight Rose. It was Princess Di's funeral all over again. I couldn't get to the Cheerios without a two-minute tussle with a spray carnation. My mantelpiece filled up with syrupy cards full of saccharine messages and predictable rhymes that would normally cause me to bring up my breakfast.
Instead, they soothed me like Shakespeare. It was thanks to the support of friends, the emetic value of Hallmark and the curt directives of an empathetically challenged cognitive behavioural therapist that I finally made it back to school this week.
It's not easy coming back after an extended illness. You have to prostrate yourself in front of your colleagues for adding to their already immense workload. Luckily, my department called in supply staff.
My KS4 classes were taken over by a Baywatch babe: a nubile 24-year-old NQT with breasts the size of Scafell Pike and a spray-on skirt slit to the crotch. Allegedly she taught them pre-1914 poetry for their GCSE Literature exam. I've looked at their books. Zilch. It's obvious that the lads spent more time grappling with themselves under their desks than with Browning's use of metaphor.
Needless to say, my return was a sorry disappointment to them. While the Year 11 girls greeted me with the usual sympathetic chorus of "Oh Miss, hope you're feeling better", the lads churlishly demanded, "When's that hot teacher coming back?" Never, I hope.
I fared slightly better with the KS3 supply: an avuncular chap who sat behind my desk sucking Werther's Originals while the kids wreaked havoc with my classroom. I now have no boardmarkers, the shortbread tin containing all the left-handed scissors has gone Awol and someone has drawn a penis on the desk.
I'm proud to be back. The only time I snivelled at work was when the chap in charge of all things computer-related (laptops, virus protection and the whole school's inability to access Google images) demanded that I complete a new personal details form for the staff database. I crumbled over the emergency contact section. My bastard ex? My eldest son? Or am I finally reduced to Charlie, my golden retriever?
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary English teacher in the North of England.