Good classroom decor cannot be rushed, says Michael Cook
I believe in educational standards. Not in the euphemistic sense, of compulsory caning and shoving 11-plus failures up chimneys, but simply in the way I'm filled with pride when Alfie spouts proper schoolboy facts about gorillas, Guy Fawkes or the capital of Guyana. (No, me neither.) So when, from the top of my ladder, I hear Mrs Lewis spinning Class 3 into a frenzy of infant excitement over the intricacies of English grammar, I am pleased I'm engaged in my own example of old-fashioned craft. Yes, I think we all agree there is a right way and a wrong way to make a Christmas party pack of crepe paper resemble the teeming jungle biomass. First, you must use crinkly scissors. Fashioning the results of billions of years of evolution with straight cuts is just sloppy. Second, a three-quarter twist in each strip of paper is essential to give the required organic look. A full twist appears over-manufactured; a half twist invariably unravels.
Third, to fully resemble the forest spectrum, the strands of lifelike creeper that result should be attached to the ceiling in the specific ratio of five dark green, five light green, two yellow. Admittedly, it's not a formula for speed; it's taken more than an hour so far and I'm not a quarter of the way across. Quality takes time.
But not everyone values excellence over timeliness. Speaking of which, there's an intruder on what I have come to consider my patch. Another helper. A mum (not even from our class!) has finished her tasks next door and volunteers her services.
Now you would think my several weeks-long experience of parent-helping in Class 3 would put me in a position of some authority. I not only have prior possession of the stepladder, I know where Mrs Lewis keeps her emergency glue. But despite this, and my more than clear instructions, I'm afraid my new colleague is what a crueller man than I might call haphazard.
No twists. Green, red and grey crepe paper. Rip, glue. Rush, rush. Bish, bosh. We're finished before playtime.
Mrs Lewis proclaims our display "really effective". Alfie reckons it's "pretty good". Unhelpfully, neither expresses a preference for either half of the room. You'd think they couldn't tell the difference. So, naturally, I feel obliged to point out my three-quarter twists to any and every six-year-old who'll listen. I have my standards.
Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend