It's goodbye to the old bag

13th February 1998 at 00:00
Retirement. It no longer beckoned - it was happening, here and now. So what did I do on the first day of my new-found freedom? One of the first tasks involved weeding out the contents of my large teacher's handbag, transferring the remainder to something smaller and more appropriate. What secrets lurked there? What tools of the trade was I to discard?

* One calculator: I had totalled, percentaged and averaged my last register, my last sets of examination papers.

* Two marker pens: no more bold headings for noticeboards and storage files.

* Three red pens: no longer would I look for errors to correct, nor judge whether to pass or fail.

* Four pieces of chalk: I no longer need to reinforce my opinions by spelling them out on blackboards - or draw stick people as illustrations.

* Five miscellaneous Biros: Where on earth had I picked up that one labelled the Cutty Sark?

* Six pieces of sandpaper with varying degrees of baldness. I shall not miss cleaning desks.

* Seven paper hankies - crumpled but clean. It was considerably less hassle to hand over one of my own and refuse permission for a wander to the office, toilet or wherever the sniffer had set his or her heart on going.

I also found paper clips by the dozen, a mini-pack of Post-It notes, my last pay cheque (it will no doubt seem like riches indeed when I start trying to exist on a pension), and my Education Year Diary - all human life was there, telephone numbers, addresses, deadlines, dates of orals, exams, appraisals, OFSTEDs.

Then there was a whole stack of surplus baggage that had never fitted into the handbag. It was displayed back at home among the cards and the gifts, or simply stored in my memory.

I'm not so sure about the homemade card with a collage of a bottle on the front, labelled "van rooge". And that was Year 11.

Form 10H and I had a party. I see them now, poised and neatly posed in the silver-framed photograph. My last form. It couldn't possibly be the same girls I had nagged to tuck in their shirts or take out their nose-studs.

And what have I been doing since? A little language tuition, French conversation with the village town twinning committee members, mentoring for the University of the Third Age group, who are manfully tackling the French edition of Camus's La Peste.

Last week I met my old deputy head. I couldn't resist offering to help out with some occasional stress-free supply teaching. Perhaps the old bag's not ready for the dustbin just yet.

Joy Hall is a former head of modern languages

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