Who put that body in the cupboard?

7th July 2000 at 01:00
"YOU might find a body at the bottom of all that," said the passing depute head. "You'd better watch out in case you end up in there, too," she added to the two P7 boys who were standing beside me. They smiled weakly and a flicker of alarm shot through their eyes as they regretted offering to give up their lunchtime to do any jobs that I needed.

As usual, I had looked upon their offer as an annoyance. I knew that they must have been really bored in the playground if I was the chosen means of diversion and I had better things to do. As "No thank you" formed on my lips, my mind did a quick change on remembering the cupboard outside my office door. This is my personal storage space whose contents have been a secret to everyone for 20 years, but the problem was that they had also become a secret to me.

The cupboard is tall and narrow with shelves climbing from floor to ceiling on both sides of the door and it houses books and folders of work dating back to my early teaching days. Other items have been thrown in casually over the years and they were collected there in the expectation that they would come in useful some day, since at the back of my mind there is always the thought that I might return to class teaching.

I am not sure why I have clung on to this suspicion. Perhaps I expect to be caught out as a fraud in my present post because what I see of a modern class teacher's job suggests that it is far too complex and energy sapping for me to wish to return to it voluntarily.

The cupboard had become so full that I had given up ever trying to find anything and this was not helped by my policy of never throwing a book away. So, in the spirit of "if I don't use it, I don't need it", we plunged into the waist-high pile of debris on the floor in an attempt to clear a route to the shelves.

The first thing we pulled out was a machin-gun - not an aid to classroom discipline but a life-size black wooden model made for a production of The Machine Gunners. It was so impressive that it seemed a shame to throw it out and the option of giving it away did not exist since the recipient would be surrounded by a large squad of policemen the moment he took it out to play. So we returned it to the cupboard.

Underneath was a long lost music score which had been hired and never returned 10 years ago. I swallowed at the thought that hire charges may still be outstanding if I owned up to its possession. So we returned it to the cupboard. I could not explain why the cupboard contained a plastic dolls' tea set in its original wrapping, or a 20-year-old bag of toffees which were unattractive even to my helpers.

And I was sure I had been breaking the law when we uncovered a black metal Government-issue ballot box complete with its stick of red sealing-wax and pink security ribbons. So we returned it to the cupboard. A folder bulged with a stack of Bandamasters which had provided, in days before photocopiers and laser printers, multiple copies of maps and mathematical shapes to pupils whose first reaction on receiving the fresh copies was to hold them to their noses and sniff. The class which was high on Banda fluid was a happy class.

From the same generation was a volume of Making Sure of Graphs with its cover photograph of a prancing, short-trousered schoolboy, arms akimbo, in a pose which would invite many insulting remarks and whistles from his modern, more worldly wise counterparts. They don't make things like that nowadays. So we returned them to the cupboard.

Did I keep my promise to throw away anything which I did not use? Not really. The cupboard is tidier and space has been made for additions. We did not find any bodies, but I did unearth many fond memories.


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