Old box of tricks for the rookies' repertoire

9th February 2007 at 00:00
"You don't look like your photo, do you?" are the accusatory words usually uttered on those rare moments when someone recognises me from the mugshot that accompanies this column. Hardly my hoped-for 15 minutes of fame.

It is me, honest. But taken during the holiday when I was rested, relaxed and had some sleep. Vanity made me take off my glasses for the snap. But in term-time I am stressed, knackered and not blow-dried and shiny.

Still, with age comes wisdom. Perhaps that's why I have been asked to help mentor the PGCE students on school placements. I tell them the vital practical stuff first: don't decide what to have for lunch from the menu before looking at the food first - descriptions can be deceptive. Be nice - very nice - to all the support staff as they are "very important people"

and you can't function without them.

Wracking my brain, I conjure up past experiences, things I know now that I wish I'd known then to offer up as pearls of teaching wisdom. This stuff you won't find in handbooks.

Tissues, wet-wipes, plastic bags and latex gloves. Get them and keep them close by. Regardless of age, pupils cry, leak, make a mess, spill stuff, vomit, and will do so in your classroom. Often.

Beware brown paper packages tied up with string. Do not confuse them with any Julie Andrews musicals. They will not contain favourite things. I recall Raj heaving his show-and-tell box on to my desk. Scuttling sounds came from inside. He swore there was nothing living inside, so I let him open it. Out flew a seagull. They're big buggers to have flapping around a classroom. Cue the wet-wipes.

Just because you harbour a desire to be a Blue Peter presenter, there's no reason to be too creative. Beware glitter and correction fluid especially.

Images of Kelly loom large. She ate the contents of the glitter tube, took a swig of Coke and poured the lot down her throat. Seconds later she vomited it all up. Over Gavin. See tissues and latex gloves above.

Expect the unexpected on school trips. You may have filled in a risk assessment form, but it doesn't cover all eventualities. One geography field trip I went on seemed innocent enough. We stood on a deserted beach in winter looking at cliffs. Then a young blonde woman in white stilettos and pink leg-warmers tottered into view, a photographer behind. After doffing her anorak, she wore... well, not much, other than a few strips of Lycra and a large stick of seaside rock which she then "modelled" in ways unrelated to coastal erosion.

Finally, beware combining children with other life-forms. See incident of the seagull in the box, above. Not even a harmless goldfish or houseplants.

Children don't realise that fish don't like pickled onion Monster Munch - or that spider plants will not thrive with squashed cheese on them. Pass the wet wipes, please.

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