Thank God it's Friday

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Monday It's the holidays and I'm cutting out cardboard letters while Jack and Vera yell blue murder in Coronation Street. No sooner is ancient Greece out of the way, than I'm mounting pictures onto brightly coloured card accompanied by the theme tune of EastEnders.

This new-found obsession with display work is just one of the symptoms of the run-up to an OFSTED inspection. There are 10 days to go and stress levels have hit the roof. The alarm's going off at 5.45am, we're not getting to bed until after midnight, and weekends, well, what are those? Aren't they just the times when you're clearing out classroom cupboards and trying to find that draft PE policy you were sure was knocking about somewhere? That's not strictly true: there was that Saturday night when my partner and I were gyrating round the living room to some 1960s numbers to see if it would inspire some seven-year-olds to create a "space" sequence in their dance lesson.

Tuesday There have been a few highlights in this otherwise unremittingly bleak period of my life. Today's treat has been comfort book buying. No, not PD Cornwell and James Grisham but tomes such as How to Survive a School Inspection. It reminds me of doing O-levels, when many an hour was wasted creating elaborate revision plans in many colours, only this time it's lesson plans. Then there are the sleepless nights, where I find myself dreaming about children suspended from wall bars in assembly or food fights while I'm on dinner duty. Worst of all is the prospect of falling asleep while I'm supposed to be teaching, which would hardly be surprising since I've been waking up at 4.30am for weeks now.

Wednesday Today my partner and I have a rare trip out to investigate the local museum, which the school is visiting next week - a guided tour to find out where the toilets are, how many breakable objects are not stored in cabinets and whether it's wise to let the pupils get a whiff of the gift shop.

Our home computer doesn't know what's hit it; when the spell-check reaches "Aims, Objectives and Learning Outcomes" it flashes up "not again". A bit like me.

Thursday I try to create some order out of the ever-growing chaos that is our home. The bedroom's awash with herbal sleeping pills and homeopathic calming tablets; Oasis and Blur have been evicted from the stereo and replaced with a hypnotherapy Sleep Like a Baby cassette. The floor is strewn with little gold stars waiting to be stuck into exercise books, and piles of illegal photocopies adorn the book case.

That's not to mention the high number of empty wine bottles in the recycling box. Vast numbers of confiscated toys seem to be finding a home with us; this is just a cunning ruse to keep the children in check next week - "be quiet when I tell you to or the cyberpet gets it".

Friday There are times when I wonder if it's worth it. Do the children benefit from all this planning and hassle? I know I don't; I've been tense, snappy and irritable for weeks. And as for my love life, well, drop-dead gorgeous has become dropping dead from exhaustion. Still, we're trying to keep the team morale up; the head has even donated the odd bottle of Lambrusco to the staffroom.

My only consolation is that in a fortnight it will all be over and life will return to normal. How much worse it must be for my partner - after all, he's the teacher. I'm just the long-suffering girlfriend, or perhaps I should say unpaid classroom assistant.

Emma Howell lives in Oxford

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