Thank God it's Friday

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Monday It's my first day and I'm invited into the head's office for an obligatory chat about various policies, including dress code. He tells me I should always wear a shirt and tie as "it'll create a strong male role model for the boys". I am also to receive an identity badge. My job description is to improve the literacy of a small group of boys in Year 5; disappointedly I accept the title "teaching assistant".

Tuesday I'm worried by the "assistant" part. Who am I assisting? I'm the one who spends the morning with these boys talking about plays, finding interesting ways to encourage them to commit their ideas to paper and focusing their vivid and often tangential imaginations. I feel "head of boys' literacy" would be a more appropriate title.

Wednesday There's an eerie quiet throughout the school. Is it Saturday? Am I early? No, all the TAs are out on a course for the day, "so there's just you", says the head. "Actually seeing as you're here, could you do a couple of things?" Sure. "Well, you can go out and ring the bell for the start of school, and do the break-time duty too. And while assembly is on, you wouldn't mind putting the kettle on ready for break?" Surely this needs a new badge, perhaps "head of everything".

Thursday "We're a mealtime assistant down." An ominous statement. If I can't help out, the children will have to miss football. I enjoy football, but don't want to appear too keen or it will be me standing out there on cold February lunchtimes. From today I wish to be known as "head of everything including lunchtime activities". Four days has exhausted my shirt and tie collection so I call into the shops on the way home.

Friday Yesterday's wardrobe additions are greeted with numerous compliments. Will they preserve my workload at its current rate? I see the head at the end of the corridor and anticipate the worst. Perhaps the caretaker is ill and a toilet needs unblocking. "You've achieved a lot this week and certainly learned about all the areas of our school. Next thing we know you'll be after my badge." No need. At this rate, by the end of next week I'll be head of the Department for Education and Skills.

James Harris lives in Plymouth

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