Thank God it's Friday

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Monday I get a postcard from Fiji. It's from David. He's touring the world after a year spent selling vintage wines during which he made pound;60,000. "No one forgets a good teacher," he writes. But it is Monday, it is wet, I marked assessments all weekend and I am broke. I wonder why I do this job.

Tuesday I write a letter to Matthias. It is difficult to know what to say to a 20-year-old who has just received a 10-year sentence for armed robbery. I scribble something stupid about hoping he'll make good use of the educational opportunities in prison and then feel embarrassed by my optimism. Clearly, what I taught him did him no good.

I buy stamps from Madasser. He is depressed. He feels he failed at school. I point out that while he was doing A-levels, he worked in this shop for 50 hours a week. He was superbly organised, he always did his work on time, but clearly he could not revise enough to pass. Yet now he's 21, he owns the shop, he's married and he has a little girl. I tell him that against all that, school is a shadow, a rehearsal for reality.

It's not enough. "I wish I'd tried harder at school," he says. If I had pound;1 for each time I heard that I'd be in Fiji now.

Wednesday Sarah, the girl at theDo It All checkout, greets me effusively, announcing to the crowded store that I am her teacher. She offers me a leaflet on how to wire a plug. I remind her I taught that skill to her.

Thursday I have a meal in Ansar's restaurant. I ask him what I taught him. He describes a lesson in which we used maggots to find out if they liked damp or dry conditions. Julian, a grubby and neglected boy, put a maggot in his mouth. The whole class shrieked.

Friday An irate bus driver brings Robert into school. Robert has refused to pay his fare. He looks pale and ill. His father is dying of cancer. Robert is the eldest boy and will be expected to look after the family when his father dies. He is terrified by this prospect and he almost hates his father for putting him through this. He feels so guilty. His father has so much more to fear. He's ashamed. He's angry with the world.

I lend him pound;1 and he encloses it in a letter of apology to the bus company. He goes to lessons but at first break he is back. He wants to shake my hand and thank me for my help. I know that he will cope when his father dies. I think I've worked out why I do this job.

Chris Jarrett writes under a pseudonym. He teaches in Bedford

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