After 18 years teaching in the UK and the United States, I figured doing a spot of supply would be a doddle. OK, so I played safe and only took bookings at schools I knew. But then they asked me to spend a day in foundation stage and I felt a panic attack coming on. "Just give it a try,"
they coaxed. "If you really hate it, we won't ask you again." So I gave it a try, and guess what? They won't be asking me again.
Like many teachers who've only ever worked in key stage 2 and above, I had no idea just how tough the job can be once you enter the world of the under-fives.
My first task was to lead a guided reading session. Me, some little people and a set of reading-scheme books. Our target was "I can hold the book the right way up" - that will give you an idea of the level we were at. Having discussed the picture on the cover and read the title together (this was going far too well), I asked the little people about the name printed on the front. "Who is Jane Bloggs, I wonder?" Responses ranged from "She's in Pink Class" to "She's the monkey in the story". I'm sure Jane, whoever she is, never expected credit for her work anyway. Picture-book authors, I sympathise.
Next came numeracy. Thirty little people sat on the carpet while I held up a big book called Count the Farmyard Kittens. Again, we were off to a flying start, pointing to the kittens on each page, until there was a shout of "I can see a sheep!" quickly followed by "I can see two sheeps!" Then all hell broke out in a sheep-spotting free-for-all. So whose idea was it to put sheep in a book called Count the Farmyard Kittens? I take back anything nice I might have said about picture-book authors.
Little people seem to have an obsession with shiny paper and Sellotape.
They seem to spend most of their day making bits of sticky bling from tin foil, tissue and glue, proudly attaching it to each passing adult. I now know how to spot a reception teacher from 100 metres in the street.
As for bodily fluids, don't even go there. Let's just say I've never seen so much mucus in one classroom, and apparently that was a good day: "You're lucky we didn't need the shower or the washing machine today," the nursery nurses said.
Getting ready to go home took forever. Just as well we started 35 minutes before the bell. We all had to find the right peg, the right fluffy pink jacket (and not your friend's fluffy pink jacket), find both gloves and matching scarf, put everything on and take it off, turn it the right side out, and put it on again, and then fasten buttonszipsVelcro and find the right school bag (not the one with your friend's name on). All this 30 times over. Give me Year 6 on a wet Friday afternoon any day. At least they can do up their buttons.
By the end of the day, I'd reached the end of my tether - as well as the firm conclusion that every foundation stage teacher truly deserves a medal.
And not one made out of tin foil, either.
Mary McCarney is a supply teacher in Luton