True addicts stick at it

17th November 2006 at 00:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

"Work with the world's most enquiring minds." The latest teaching recruitment drive presents inquisitive teenagers, asking "What's the point of a daddy-long-legs?", "Why is the sky blue?" But primary school teachers face more down-to-earth questions: "Who is hardest: Darth Maul or the red Power Ranger?", "When's break?" and (difficult Year 6 only) "Are you gay, Sir?"

So what is teaching really like? As a teacher, you will cease to measure time using the Gregorian calendar and adopt the standard method of planning your year around holidays. This is only a slight variation on the way children measure time: "seven weeks until my birthday". After an emotional first day, teachers' standard parting comment to each other is: "Only nine months and 14 days until summer holidays."

True teachers are great procrastinators. The usual contents of people's car boots are wellies, a jack and a crate of bottles that you "really must recycle". Teachers' cars are supplemented with a large box of marking, ferried back and forth in the hope that the marking fairies make night-time visits. Every morning, when the books remain unmarked (and damper as the winter wears on), it's time to think of another excuse for that annoying Year 5 prodigy who wants to know what happened to his homework.

Within weeks, the endless drawing of lists, charts, tables and plans may lead to a frightening obsession with stationery. Like any addict, most teachers begin with pens "pushed" on them by the school. As supplies dwindle, they discover WHSmith. Soon it's Rymans and they are on the hard stuff: highlighters, treasury tags and coloured stickers.

Stickers are where it gets out of hand. Teachers' drawers are full of them "just in case". Most beloved are the reward stickers that teachers slap randomly on pupils' snot-encrusted sweatshirts. The younger the child, the more likely stickers will be applied.

Reception classes often leave school covered head-to-toe, looking like pearly kings and queens but with shiny buttons replaced by faded circles covered with legends such as "Brilliant" and "Hope this will keep your mum from pestering me again".

Once I found a reel of stickers featuring a phallic rocket, which read "Keep it up". It looked like marketing material for an erectile dysfunction clinic. I was so impressed, I stuck it on every child, noticeboard and available surface.

Sadly, career highlights such as this are unlikely to feature in the next recruitment drive. So what is the point of daddy-long-legs? No idea, but I do know that Darth Maul could defeat an Ofsted inspector, break is "when I say it is" and "It's none of your business".

More from Henry in a fortnight

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