'Are you not the janitor?' she asked

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Darkness. We leave home in it, return in it and many "daylight" hours are dark too. While flu outbreaks, bronchitis and chest infections boost staff absence rates and unsettle children, darkness brings a much more sneaky affliction to many teachers.

Lack of daylight may increase depression so you need New Year's resolutions to boost your mood and that doesn't mean fags and whisky. Quality sleep, eating well and taking exercise are the order of the day. Even a regular, short walk can make a difference.

The extortionate rise in parking charges around our school has forced me into a 15- minute walk each morning. My route takes me past a colony of ducks on a burn, then to a study of the overflowing contents of Burger King's wheelie bins and on to conversations with various passers-by including former pupils and parents. After such diversions I arrive at school relaxed and alert. Except when my activities make me late and I become stressed and anxious.

Along with the darkness, January and February bring snow. We have a rule which says,"Don't throw snowballs" although probably it has a positive spin such as "Throwing snowballs distresses others."

Actually it doesn't always. Many children enjoy a snowball fight - sorry, contest - but we don't admit that nowadays. Anyway, it's a bad rule because it's impossible to enforce fairly. Perhaps we could try separate playtimes - one for gentler personalities and the other for those who want to shower their friends in snow.

Icy days bring similar conflicts. Disappointment and protests follow the janitor's attempts to spread his salt generously. Cultivating a playground slide is a skilled business, requiring excellent communication and teamwork and I contribute to their enterprise skills by requesting the janitor to leave an area untreated for the winter sports enthusiasts to develop. I suspect health and safety people may have a different opinion.

As for this janitor, one of my New Year's resolutions is to do something about him. He's becoming too big for his boots. During his recent week-long illness, our school fell apart. It didn't escape the attention of staff.

Said one teacher to me,"When you were ill for five months last year, we kept on going. The janitor goes off for five days and we're nearly finished."

He was welcomed back with open arms.

Then there was the day when I was working quietly in my office, the door ajar. I felt a presence at my elbow and turned to find a primary one girl staring at me.

"Hello," I said. "You came to my class yesterday," she said. "I did and I was very happy. I think your reading is very good."

"Well, I've come to see you," she said. "Is this where you live?"

"Sometimes," I said. "What do you think of it?" She looked around. "Where are the toilet rolls? They've run out and I need one."

"You'll want the janitor for that," I said, noticing a blank look spread across her face."He's out just now. Do you know Mrs Allan (our secretary)?"

A nod. "Well, go and talk to her and she'll show you where the janitor keeps the toilet rolls."

There was a puzzled silence. Then: "Are you not the janitor?" This janitor is definitely becoming too important. I could undermine his status by encouraging him to scatter salt across the whole playground. I shall deny it to the children, of course.

See, the darkness is already encouraging my villainous instincts. The idea of emigrating to Australia is becoming attractive. Are they still doing pound;10 passages?

Brian Toner is head of St John's primary in Perth

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