Thank God it's Friday

Monday: Thank God for the feel bad factor. Now that I do supply work in schools my prosperity depends on other people's illness. I live now out of a large holdall which contains my survival kit: pencils, paper, instant worksheets, scissors, whistle, jar of coffee and all the other 101 things which I know I'll need.

Not much more than a term ago I had an office, a secretary, my own classroom and a whole school to carry around. Now, it's just a green and white London Marathon holdall which weighs a ton. I know which I prefer.

I'm in a school now where there is a large staff so there's usually someone ill or on a course. My bag has made it's way round every junior class bar one, as well as the local baths and sports hall.

Tuesday: Everyone is still up in arms about the new early retirement restrictions. Reaction to me has been one of good natured envy.

"Creep," however was the comment the other day when I sidled up to the head and said what a good assembly she had done.

"You're only after more work," said someone else who I couldn't argue with really.

"Don't you worry," said my new boss (it feels odd having a boss again) "if they insult you, it means you're accepted."

Since poor Mr Tee ripped his Achilles tendon last November I've been in the school more or less full time. I may be wrong but I thought it was only months ago that Gillian Shephard was saying what a reservoir of talent and experience we retired people were. Now, suddenly, we are the parasites who abuse the system. The truth is, most of us haven't stopped liking teaching and classroom work.

What I've had enough of is being an unpaid counsellor, social worker, accountant and business manager. Today I'm doing what I'm good at and I know I give good value for money.

Wednesday: I learn Mr Tee will be away for at least another two weeks. That's good news (for me, that is). Now I can plan properly and fit in with the other two year group classes.

"I've got take to time off to get my bunions seen to," says Mrs P.

"Well wait till I'm free then and book me in before you do it," I tell her. Mrs Bee still smiles at me benignly from across the staffroom. She is forever grateful I took over the juniors' Christmas party on a wet afternoon. One hundred children in the hall for party games for 90 minutes. Try that one, Mrs Shephard.

"That's the first year I have gone home without a migraine. I think you're wonderful." As a head nobody ever said that to me in 13 years. It's a funny old world.

Thursday: How many teachers do you know who are 100 per cent fit and healthy?

In a job where you need the constitution of an ox and a skin thick enough to survive every ailment brought in by the children, this staffroom is no different from any other. People come in when they should be in bed and have two days off when they should have three.

"Because I feel guilty," says Mrs Bee when I ask her why she has returned looking as white as a sheet. Most teachers have said, or thought, that at one time or another.

Friday: "So you're OK for next week?" says Bobby the head. I nod and know she is relieved.

Mrs Bee still can't believe she had no Christmas migraine. Mrs P was amazed when I doubled up her class with mine so she could do extra concert rehearsals. An overworked secretary (aren't they all) was wide-eyed when I took some of her typing home to do. And from Mr Ess the ultimate accolade when he was away on a week's residential.

"I want you in my room while I'm away, not any old Tom, Dick or Harry. "

David Thomas retired last year as headteacher of a Leeds primary school

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