Gemma Warren column

13th November 1998 at 00:00
So there's a note in my pigeon-hole from my head of year. "Urgent - come and see me. Your register has been defaced." I go along. "Look." He hands me the offending document. "There are these strange red marks all over it, smudges, scribbles . . . do you know who might be responsible?" How do I break it to him? This isn't the work of some anarchist school-hater. It's me, taking the register as normal. "It's the Greek alphabet," I say hopefully. "I'm promoting Cultural Diversity in Administration."

"We've never had an NQT as a form tutor before," says my head of year, with understanding.

At the moment I'm at the helm of the aptly-named WAR 10, which sounds like some futuristic disaster film starring Bruce Willis rather than a caring, sharing pastoral unit. Morning registration is stressful. "Language and the landscape of literacy" doesn't really prepare you for 30 kids throwing slips of paper, letters and cheques for vast amounts of money at you, at a time when most people haven't even switched off their alarm clocks.

There's a sign for everything. And I'm not talking semantics. I'm talking Symbols To Be Learnt and Duly Recorded In The Appropriate Box. Not on any old Kleenex that happens to be lurking around.

It all looks so simple on the explanation sheet, but somehow "I'm going to get my verrucas done, Miss, and I might be back by third period, but I'll definitely be back by lunch" doesn't categorise easily. What's that? "Medical"? "Recreational"? "Other"? "Downright lie"? Is "Vocational" a meaningful category in relation to Year 10?

And it's so much responsibility. Especially for a girl who's been hiding bank statements behind the sofa since she was 11. At the moment I have cheques totalling Pounds 69.87 on my desk, and I don't know how they got there.

I skive off at break to ring by best friend who's in Corporate Finance. "Help. Stop re-negotiating the Third World Debt. I have Pounds 69.87 on my desk. "

"Net?" "Well, it's in a Sainsbury's bag, actually. What do I do with it?" "Go out and spend it."

"I can't. I'm supposed to have collected Pounds 5 from each of my 30 kids. I don't know why. I feel like I'm running a protection racket."

"Gemma, Pounds 5 from 30 kids is Pounds 150. Have you really spent Pounds 80.13 on Diet Coke in the past three days?" "We've never had an NQT as a form tutor before," says my head of year, beaming as WAR 10 win the prize for the least number of lates this half term. I don't have the heart to tell him that I don't know what the late symbol is, especially now we've just received a big box of Quality Street.

Black circle red L? Red Circle green L? I try a random selection. You see, I love my class. I just find it difficult to administrate them. They don't convert easily into statistics. I know that they're tired, the bus was late, it's raining, they've had a row with their mum, and I don't think there's a symbol for that.

That afternoon I take out my register to find a Post-it stuck to the front. It says, "Hi, I'm your register. Please mark me." I've hit on a brilliant new teaching strategy. I turn to WAR 10 and take out the Quality Street. The sacrifices I make for my kids. "Who wants to take the register?" Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London

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