Thank God it's Friday

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Monday: Why, on their first morning back at school, do Year 13 students want to know when study leave starts? And why do all the 300 new Year 9 children seem to be lost in my vicinity?

I spend most of lunchtime on the telephone, trying to hide the sound of my sandwich-munching. I listen to an admissions tutor in Scotland explaining why her veterinary department will be unlikely to consider our candidate who has nine GCSEs at A* or A and five A-levels at grade A, not to mention lots of experience working with animals. "You see," she says, "we rejected her at a very early stage last year." I begin to wonder what is the point of applying.

Tuesday: I clear my pigeonhole. Since yesterday, it has taken in a sea of paper in much the same way as I imagine the Titanic received the Atlantic Ocean. There is a deluge of requests to advertise university courses and open days. When do they find the time to write all this stuff? I have to leave everything until later as the bell goes for afternoon lessons and an eager Year 10 class awaits.


My first Year 9 lesson of the term. I make sure they know my name and then start to learn theirs (an annual ritual in the first week). One bright-eyed, young girl sticks up her hand to tell me that I used to teach her father. Does she realise how depressed that can make a middle-aged teacher?

My planned timing of the lesson is going beautifully until the class tells me that lunch for them is 10 minutes early this week. Their form tutors said all their teachers would know, as a note had been put in their pigeonholes the day before.


I am determined to put in a lunchtime appearance in the staffroom today, as I haven't spoken face-to-face to anyone over 18 all week. Just as I am about to leave my office, a student enters and asks for an opinion on the first draft of his UCAS personal statement. "Will you write my reference, please?" I agree: I've done so many over the past few years that I am thinking of retiring to become a fiction writer.


I have two consecutive Year 9 groups today - in different buildings. At the end of lesson one, feeling like the man in Juvenal's third satire, I push my way through the thronging crowds in the corridors. When I arrive at my next destination, I realise that the head is in the room telling the class that I am not as young as I used to be, adding that I am, in fact, his father. They swallow it. "He used to teach my Dad," says the little girl.

The school restaurant, run by students doing national vocational qualifications, is not open in the first week and so my usual Friday midday haven is denied to me. I sit in the office and open my Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box.

A new American student comes to ask about applying to university, and we telephone UCAS to find out whether she will be suitably qualified. We're told to ring individual institutions. Between us, we add a few pounds to the school telephone bill before I start to eat at 2pm.

At the end of the day, the staff gathers for nibbles and drinks to celebrate our excellent exam results. I prepare to make for home, exhausted but with a fairly clear weekend ahead. A final check for messages reveals a pile of reports to collate and annotate by Monday. Welcome back!

Mike Smith teaches classics and is head of sixth form at Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham, Northumberland

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