I am not a Reception teacher, but the phone-call on Friday relayed tones of desperation - "I'm sure you'll manage, they're very well trained and we've got a very capable nursery nurse in that class." So here I am, studying the notes left by the regular teacher: "Registration; collect dinner money; practise number recognition to 10; draw numbers 1, 2, 3 and illustrate; children go to the toilet, get coats and go out to play." Will that really last till playtime? We don't even get through the list.
Tuesday The dreaded music and movement lesson. Despite exhortations to leave their clothes in a neat pile, the classroom looks like a jumble sale; only an hour ago 26 parents made sure that all these ties, shirts, blouses, trousers, shoes and socks were correctly assembled and we've just undone all their good work.
Stretch up tall, curl up small, shoot into the air. I feel like a wet rag and pray it's nearly playtime - just 26 sets of mostly unlabelled, identical garments to reassemble on the right bodies.
Wednesday "There's a lady coming to talk about nature" I was told this morning. It turns out to be a parent with a pet barn owl, and an interest in preserving wildlife. "So, children, we should do all we can to help the endangered creatures of the countryside." "Birds, Miss?" "Oh yes, our wonderful feathered friends." "Red squirrels, Miss?" "Indeed, the lovely little creatures." "Grey squirrels, Miss?" "Oh no - they're just vermin."
Thursday Joanna is late. She appears at playtime, with a large, irate mother. "We've been down the public health," mother blasts at me. I am about to explain that I am employed by the local education authority when she continues. "My man brought us a Chinese take-out last night." "Oh yes," I reply weakly. "I like Chinese food, too." "There was a foot in it," she screams, leaning forward into my face. I feel hysterical laughter surging up inside, and before I can stop myself, I say "Oh yes, whose?" The damage is done - no point in explaining that the Chinese use chicken's feet as seasoning. Oh well, I'm only a supply teacher, and it's Friday tomorrow.
Friday "You've done wonderfully well," the head beams with relief. At my imminent departure or the thought of the regular teacher's return? A combination of the two I expect. A sense of lightheartedness at the prospect of the weekend pervades the staffroom. At storytime I feel quite sad. One thing about supply work - there's always an end in sight if you have a really difficult class, but this little lot has been rather sweet, and I think they did learn something, despite my inexperience.
"Time for coats everyone. It's been lovely meeting you. Come along Robert, Mummy's waiting." Robert is yards behind my little line as the nursery nurse leads us to the gate. "Robert, do hurry up." Then I hear his mum laughing as she bends down to give him a kiss. "That's certainly one way of keeping you in order!" It is only then that I see that Robert has tied both his shoelaces together.
Jean Emes is a teacher living in Newcastle upon Tyne