Thank God It's Friday

25th April 1997 at 01:00
Monday: It's the penultimate week of rehearsals for the school production, and it was a real struggle to get out of bed. The thought of 60 adolescents high-kicking to songs from West End shows makes me queasy at the best of times, but realising that I have to teach them the songs and the steps is truly nauseating.

During a tense lunchtime rehearsal, I ask myself two questions. First, do I really think that shouting "Smile! You're enjoying yourselves!" will have the desired effect? And second, do I have the acting ability to fake a stroke and get myself out of this mess? I resolve to show the cast my patented "artificial smile", and send someone to the office to fetch two elastic bands.

Tuesday: A group of Year 8 girls have been persuaded to perform their section of the show as a "taster" during an assembly. This has been co-ordinated by our senior teacher, a man who has inhabited the building since grammar school days. His assemblies are eagerly awaited by staff for anachronisms such as declaring that "Masters and prefects may leave first, followed by the upper fifth". Today he excels himself and cannot understand why there are giggles when he says, referring to the Year 8 girls, "Give them the clap they all deserve."

Wednesday: Teachers impress parents they have never met before by greeting them by name at parents' evenings. The parents are pleased that you know their offspring well enough to be able to make the connection but do not always understand the process of recognition. Tonight I impress Mr Hodgkins, who smiles when I greet him by name but whose eyes are asking, "How does he know for sure?" I want to tell him, "Well, you and your daughter share a number of distinguishing features: cauliflower ears, an alarmingly red nose, and eyes slightly off centre." But I don't. This is what it means to be a professional.

Thursday: Things fall apart. I haven't shaved, my hair is greasy and I think my pants are on back to front. I have been choreographing "Consider Yourself" in my sleep all night and I'm bruised and exhuasted. Entering the staffroom, I drop my briefcase and its contents slide across the floor. They sum up my life: a bulky folder of unmarked work, various pills, a pathetic list of "to do's", the sheet music to "I Know Him So Well", and a half-hearted attempt at a healthy packed lunch.

Friday: My mind is taken off the greasepaint and tinsel by some juicy staffroom gossip. Later in the day, these rumours of extra-marital affairs prove to have some substance when I pick up the department extension and hear a colleague ask, "Hello, is that Relate?" "No," I reply, "it's not, Mr Harris. It's Tom. You need to dial 9 first for an outside line." There is a short silence, a stifled sob, then "click, brrr". Isn't stress a wonderful thing?

Tom Sleeman teaches at a comprehensive school in the West Midlands

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