11th June 2004 at 01:00
What if my cover does a better job than me? What if my department likes this person more than me? What if the head thinks they're better?

I'm preparing to go on maternity leave and I'm not finding life pleasant. Despite the fact that I've thrown up in every receptacle my school can provide, and it takes two hefty members of my form to push me up the stairs, I don't feel ready to take a break from work. I still remember the excitement of getting my first pigeonhole. And the exhilaration when, as head of my own department, I was able to record my own voicemail message on my own phone. I can be territorial, but I do let people use my phone in my own little cubicle. Granted, they need to beg for a couple of hours, and promise to leave everything exactly the way they find it, but no one can say I've been over-protective of my new-found authority.

Having been in denial for the past few months, I've had to face facts and begin the handover to my cover. Scrutinising my systems - which I've presumed are cutting-edge and virtually infallible - has been uncomfortable. I've been forced to recognise that not everything I do is perfect. Trying to label my filing system has thrown up several flaws in my admin. I started off with a range of sticky labels that said "Urgent", "Vaguely urgent", "Only urgent in case of rainy days" and "Urgent in case of Ofsted inspection but otherwise don't worry". After sticking them all over my files, a helpful member of my department pointed out that this may leave my hapless replacement worse, rather than better off.

But I suppose I have to come clean and admit it: I think I secretly want them to fail. Let me clarify this. There is no reason why this highly qualified and competent person should fail. In fact, there is every reason to believe that they will do a brilliant job, and this is what I'm worried about. What if they do a better job than me? What if my department likes this person more than me? What if the head thinks they're better? What if the gang that I have my coffee with at break thinks they're more fun, with better anecdotes and access to better gossip?

People tell me that once I've had my baby I won't have time to worry about work. Apparently, I'll be so preoccupied with weighty issues such as whether to feed him or her organic food, and whether a three-in-one transport system is better than a boring old buggy, that I just won't care about the progress of my department development plan. These hormones haven't kicked in yet. I haven't even tried to skive off for the whole day when all I've got is a quick blood test at the hospital in the morning.

I am being professional. I'm not exploding in a jealous rage every time someone in my department asks my soon-to-be maternity cover a question about next term. I'm just retreating into my cubicle and silently shredding a piece of paper. I'm not jumping into every conversation about meetings that will take place after I'm gone, and trying to dominate the agenda.

I've left my mobile and home numbers, home email and fax number on Post-it notes in case anyone needs to ask a question that only I can answer. I must leave my mum's number, just in case someone tries and I'm out. Would it be too much to leave out a few photos of me being brilliantly successful?

I suppose the final test will be on the last day. Can I bear to hand over the instructions that show how to change the message on my precious head of department's voicemail? Message to my department: if my hormones haven't kicked in yet they're in the top drawer of my filing cabinet, labelled "not urgent, don't bother looking in this at all".

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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