Julie Greenhough teaches English in a London secondary school
"Who is she?" Two Year 5 pupils nudge elbows. "She's the English department." I'm intrigued they think I am the whole department. "Is she nice?" "Sometimes." "Does she shout?" "They all do over there."
"Over there" is the senior school. I am at a junior school reading competition, helping to build bridges in the primary-secondary transition this September. I sit at a desk with my fellow judges while children are cross legged on the carpet.
"Is she important?" muses the boy with questions. I perk up. "Oh yes," replies knowledgeable boy with answers. "She gets you those things you need." "What things?" I am glad he has asked as I am puzzled myself. "Qualifications." The word is drawn out and given serious elongated emphasis. It is left hanging expectantly.
"Don't they all get you those?" "Yes. You can't get in without them." "Get in where?" asks boy, and I wonder. "University," replies boy with answers. "If they all get you those, why do we need her?" Good point. "She gets them with stars on for you." I smile inwardly at the summary of my profession and the lovely image of star-covered, glittery GCSE and A-level certificates.
There has been a lot of interaction between senior and junior schools in recent weeks. Some pupils come over to read their verse for Poetry Explosion Week. They stand bravely, knobbly-kneed in shorts, looking minute next to my hulking Year 9s. Year 6 pupils come for a day of big school. They look tiny yet remain excited by the simple pleasures of being allowed to sit at big tables with a big teacher.
I pop over to read an afternoon story. On entering the junior school there is an explosion of colour, creativity and joy. This year, I remembered to wear trousers and sensible shoes. Last year, I wore pencil skirt and heels not elegant when squashed into a chair made for a five-year-old. In the playground, the girls tell me I have hair like a princess. "Are you a good or a bad princess?" I reply that I am a good princess with bad tendencies. "I am going to be one of those when I grow up," says a pigtailed girl. "Why did you become a big school teacher, not a princess?" they ask. I reply honestly that anted to be an astronaut. "Were you too naughty to be a princess?" persists pigtailed girl. If only they knew.
"What's the naughtiest thing you've ever done?" All eyes swivel on me. I decide that honesty is not always the best policy. "Ate so much chocolate I was sick." They sigh and look disappointed. A boy's plastic dinosaur attacks my knee. The girls distract him by making cakes out of dirt, daisies and grass. They kindly put one in my bag to take home. Lovely.
At the end of the day I say bye-bye to the junior head. There's a huge tray of biscuits, orange squash and crumbs on his conference table. Our head has a serious yet dull fruit platter. Chocolate digestives, bad princesses, daisy dirt cakes, qualifications with stars on. It's another world. Long may it last.