Divine intervention

18th July 2014 at 01:00

It was "clear out your cupboards" day and I was on a journey of discovery into my teaching past. Much-loved but outdated textbooks, scripts from old school productions, years of class photographs and a box of dusty recorders were unearthed as I delved deeper into the hidden recesses of the stock cupboard.

I have never been good at parting with stuff. When I was 6 my mum donated a load of my old toys to the school jumble sale and I spent my pocket money buying them all back.

But on this day we had been given strict instructions: anything that wasn't gone by the end of the week would be put in the skip. I had already filled three black bags but the pile of things I couldn't bear to consign to the bin was growing.

Old thank-you cards from pupils, scrapbooks of art and poetry, photos of school trips - I put them all in cardboard boxes destined for my car. Now teaching is so dominated by heartless spreadsheets and veiled threats about performance, we cling even more tightly to memories of happier times in the classroom.

On the last shelf I found a dusty blue statue and a long-forgotten memory bubbled up in my mind.

Our outdoor PE session had been rained off mid-lesson so we had decamped inside for a spot of benchball. In our eagerness to get started I had forgotten to issue the standard warning about indoor ball games, so I could only watch aghast as a potentially winning pass from Ryan led to the ball soaring off target towards the RE display. As if in slow motion, a vase of carnations toppled sideways taking the statue of the Virgin Mary with it. There was a collective gasp of horror as I righted the statue, revealing the mother of Jesus minus one outstretched arm.

"That's sick, Miss!" shouted one child. "Ryan's broken Mary!"

To divert the children's attention away from the religious catastrophe we had all been party to, I hastily wound up the lesson and took them back to the classroom. My teaching assistant and I held crisis talks. There seemed to be only one option: to own up. But then I remembered the RE cupboard, home to all sorts of resources - including, if memory served, spare statues.

As soon as school finished we dashed to the cupboard and were overjoyed to find a Virgin Mary who looked more than capable of filling the vacancy. Muttering a quick prayer of thanks for this minor miracle, we made the swap and stashed the broken statue in my cupboard.

Back in the present, holding the one-armed Mary up to the light, I realised that I just couldn't do it, and Our Lady joined the other items en route to my car boot. She's now taken up residence in my garage, in the hope that one day she can be cured with superglue and smuggled back into the RE cupboard.

Until then, if I ever find myself planning a lesson that requires five recorders, a 1970s maths textbook and a one-armed Virgin Mary, I will be fully prepared.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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