Thank God It's Friday

8th September 1995 at 01:00
Monday: Scrubbed clean for the new term, the classroom walls are blank. So too are the tense faces of my new pupils. "Welcome to Year 6," I smile, missing my old class. I wonder if I can ever be so involved again. "Today," I press on, "I want you to write about yourselves."

"We had a Roman party and wore togas in Mrs Lee's," says a wistful voice.

New pens set to work, hesitantly spelling out life stories. I ask Jamie to read his work to me. Small and thin, he has huge eyes and a surprisingly deep voice.

He begins: "The saddest day of my life was the day my dad left home and I went to live with my grandmother." He pauses thoughtfully. "Mind you," he says, "I could see it coming."

Tuesday: My class is being taught by the head this morning. I arrive at the local authority stores at 9.45am. Manchester is disposing of its collection of paintings, bought as an educational resource but little used.

With slowly dawning wisdom, the powers that be have decided that the best place for them is in schools. The doors, said the letter, will open at 10am. Select as many pictures as you like. First come, first served.

An estate car skids to a halt behind my tiny Corsa. Out leaps the head of our adjoining infants' school, a member of her staff and our shared caretaker. "Harry!" I gasp, pained.

The limited resources of a shared campus induce a reflex acquisitiveness in me. The head breezes through reception and, as though connected by invisible wires, the three set to work on the collection.

The room is suddenly full of people carrying off paintings. Among the abandoned furniture I spot a trolley.

I drive away triumphantly. The boot is weighed down but my heart is lifted by 25 masterpieces. I have a moment of total empathy with Robert from my previous class. In July he was found with 39 very old pencils in his tray. His reason for the hoard was that nobody in our class had any pencils.

Wednesday: Our science topic for this half term is "Our Insides". Adele and Jamie, with what I now recognise as characteristic speed, fly through their work. They have seen a mountain of stock being delivered and hope for a job.

In her haste Adele has seemingly placed the organ names in random order against the body on the worksheet. Jamie grins and jabs his pen at the intestine. "I wouldn't trust a girl who keeps her brain in her bowel!" Thursday: Chris, on second sitting for dinner, races off eagerly to play football. He falls heavily on his right hand. An extremely quiet boy I hardly know him well enough to interpret his silent writhings, but sense he is really hurt. I leave a message asking Mum to meet us in casualty.

We are seen surprisingly quickly. The doctor manipulates Chris's wrist which appears to have the full range of movement. Chris merely screws up his eyes during the examination. However, he is placed on a trolley and wheeled to X-ray.

"Well young man," says the doctor holding the plates to the light, "you fell heavily enough to break your wrist."

I look at the rapidly swelling arm. "How does it feel Chris?" He leans back sleepily against the pillow smiling with relief. "Better now he's stopped wiggling it."

Friday: Waiting for detention, two naughties gaze at the paintings now strikingly displayed on the back wall of the hall. They admire a pastel portrait of a young soldier.

"Look you can see where they've rubbed it to blend the colours," says one. "Yeah," says the other, "and they've used shadows to make his nose stick out." On seeing me they sit guiltily in the penitential position, legs crossed, arms folded.

A curious cool tingling prickles my skin on this warm September afternoon.

"They're making connections," I whisper, "between their own work and that of other artists." I try to define the emotion.

"Job satisfaction," I murmur, touched by my response. A sunbeam skids across the shadows on the polished hall floor. It's good to be back!

Mary Bland is a teacher at The Old Moat Junior School in Manchester.

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