First Encounters

20th November 1998 at 00:00
I dreamt I went to school last night. The sun was out and a gentle breeze blew down off the playing fields towards the old grey walls smothered in Virginia creeper. Children strolled towards the gates, laughing, and running into classrooms with bright, eager faces. Teachers walked briskly towards classrooms, armed with lesson plans and exercise books scattered with gold and silver stars. And then the corridors fell silent for a short half hour, a lull before the bell, echoing with "All Things Bright and Beautiful" from voices raised in song in morning assembly.

I went to school today. It rained - sheets of it across the fields. Pupils trudged the puddles up the stairs. Some were smoking, swearing. So were the teachers.

C-block prefabs shuddered and shouldered themselves into another gust.

I had a sudden identity crisis at the gate - the Point of No Return - dithering between a wide, spacious entrance with a neon "Reception" and a black arch in a wall with "Pupils" painted over it. Then I suddenly realised that even if I felt like a five-year-old, I couldn't behave like one. I must bluff my way through - see if I could get away with it. And sure enough, no one challenged me, chased me back out with threats of detention.

Maybe that's the only difference between children and adults: children can behave like children; adults can't. Children can shout, laugh and swear when they feel like it (except in school, of course), but adults must pretend. Adults are experts at playing roles. It's all this drama we do - the hot seating and thought-tracking. Stanislavsky would be proud of us!

This rush of philosophy and the sprint across the car park didn't do my blood pressure much good, nor did sitting in a cupboard nervously waiting for the Archbeako to thunder in. Fortunately, I remembered I was safely "in role" - hurtling towards 40 and never likely to return.

Anyway, I was invisible. My age guaranteed it. For children, adults don't have feelings, "real" lives, hopes and desires; they barely impinge on a child's world, except when they wield a cane (metaphorical, of course). Even if we wanted to, we couldn't bridge the gap, no matter how chummy we become. We're in the Enemy Camp, barred by virtue of our height, an irrational, entirely arbitrary discrimination.

So that was my first lesson of the day, I suppose. Becoming a teacher means becoming an Official Adult, attaining a mythical status - or simply out pretending the kids at "Let's Pretend".

By the end of the day I am exhausted from sitting and watching, psychoanalysing and being summoned by bells like one of Pavlov's experimental dogs. But I've survived and it's a kind of triumph. I totter out of school - hot, tired and hungry for my high tea. The world's still there, waiting for me. The real me, because it's an effort being an adult, pretending you're grown-up. After all, I like Beavis and Butthead too; I've got fluffy teddies on my bed, and I've played Gran Turismo on PlayStation. Not that they'd believe me though.

I suppose I'll dream of school tonight - a nightmare perhaps of turning into Mr Slatt or Mr Gryce. God preserve us! So long as I leave "my child" at the gates and remember to pick her up again at 4pm.

Karen McKoy is a PGCE student at the University College of St Martin, Lancaster

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