Arnold's World

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
One of the great benefits enjoyed by those fortunate enough to be in full-time employment is that they don't have to watch day-time television. And if Style Challenge and Dale's Supermarket Sweep weren't suffering enough, the unemployed, OAPs, invalids, lottery jackpot winners, nursing mothers and truants currently have to cope with three grisly weeks of party political conferences.

I have watched more than I care to count: when I was a teacher, it was always at this time of year - smack in the middle of the conference season - that I would fall victim to what doctors generally describe as "something that's going around". You know the sort of thing: stuffed-up nose, headache, sore throat, aching joints, rheumy eyes and chronic attacks of self-pity.

I'd phone in sick, and settle down with Strepsils and a six-pack of Lucozade to a long day of standing ovations, composited motions and the BBC's Robin Oakley gallantly trying to pretend that, if you followed carefully, it would all prove to be jolly interesting. Honestly, double 9D on a wet afternoon is infinitely preferable.

It's obvious to me now why I invariably came a cropper this early in the new academic year. During the enforced indolence of the summer holiday, I somehow managed to persuade myself that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I belonged to that select band of superteachers: those remarkable types who seem to thrive on an 18-hour working day, who never stop for anything as wimpish as lunch because they are always too busy biting off more than they can chew. So, determined to follow suit, I'd turn up on the first day of the new term, oozing with energy, brimful of brilliant ideas and with a To Do List that ran to several more pages than A la recherche du temps perdu.

During those agonising minutes before the first bell, I'd strain at the leash like a hound new to the hunt, eagerly awaiting the first tally-ho and the thrill of the chase. For the first frenetic week, an Ofsted team would have needed roller blades to keep up with me; by the third, they would have found me burnt out, run down and a sitting target for anything that happened to be going around.

And, in the average school, there is plenty going around. Children might trail clouds of glory, but they also trail menageries of bacteria viruses and other cuddly micro-oraganisms which they happily share with the teacher every time they cough, sneeze or breathe. The classroom itself could be an even bigger health hazard.

In fact, since reading up on sick building syndrome (see page 8), I am surprised that every teacher in the UK isn't home watching Robin Oakley. According to the National Energy Management Institute: "The average measured level of hazardous pollutants may be as much as a hundred times higher inside the working environment than in the air outside."

If you are one of those many teachers who reckons your classroom isn't being cleaned properly, you will be thrilled to know that every ounce of dust contains an average of 42,000 dust mites. Even so, they have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the dust to make room for various harmful fungi, pollen, chalk particles and a delightful cocktail of other virulent gunge. It made me sick just reading about it. Indeed, if I were still a teacher, I wouldn't come to school on the first day of term with a To Do list. I'd bring a surgical mask and a Dyson.

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