Thank God it's Friday

17th September 1999 at 01:00
MONDAY I'm looking forward to my first day even though I have yet to see the science room, and the head's promised timetable never arrived. So I get on Budapest's metro with no idea of who or what I'm going to teach. The head is due at 9am, but isn't here. We teachers stand at the front of the room grinning inanely. Finally the head arrives and reads his welcome in English, then in Hungarian. The Chinese teacher then does it for the Chinese parents. There's also supposed to be a Russian version, but the Russian interpreter is not here.

The head introduces us all. He gets to me: "Mr Dexter, he will be teaching science, and geography." Geography? I was 12 the last time I studied geography. There's no chance to question the head as we move into the tutor period. A "timetable" - torn-out diary pages listing classes for today and tomorrow - has been posted on the board.

TUESDAY I'm reading geography books when the head rushes in to tell me I should be teaching maths to the prep classes. I tell him that my name's not on the timetable - he tells me that I should have used my initiative and known. Five minutes into the lesson, I realise that none of the kids can speak any English.

WEDNESDAY I want to see the science room which means a trip to the other school that shares our building's staffroom. Tamas, my Hungarian colleague, does all the talking, but I can read the body language. They aren't going to give us the key. Tamas confirms this. "They say no contract has been signed."

"What contract?" "I don't know. They say the room is in their half of the building." "You do realise," I say, "that the entire resources of the science department consists of some paper 'atoms' I cut out of some scrap paper this morning, a periodic table dishcloth I was given as a leaving present from my last school and some red litmus paper I found in my pocket."

"You think you have it bad," says Tamas. "I'm down to teach IT tomorrow and we don't have any computers."

THURSDAY I find I am teaching every lesson today. At break time I ask for some Blu-tak to stick my periodic table to the blackboard. This is refused. I fall asleep at 8.45pm, the first time I've gone to bed this early since 1983.

FRIDAY Maths with the prep class. I have misgivings about being an ESOL teacher by default, but as I teach Xin, a tiny Chinese girl with no English, how to say the numbers up to 100, I feel a sense of achievement that I have never felt before. Next week's timetable is still not ready.

Ray Dexter was dean of students at the Britannica International School in Budapest, Hungary. He now teaches in Surrey

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