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Things I wish I'd known

Sue Cowley dons her plastic gloves and offers tips on coping with young pupils', er, expulsions

You're explaining the finer points of long division when out of the corner of your eye you spot Jimmy turning green. You grab the bin and rush in his direction, but it's too late. A stream of vomit flies out of his mouth like something from The Exorcist. It drips in huge globules down your newly dry cleaned skirt. It'll never happen to me: that's what I thought. Well, unless you're planning to spend a very short time in teaching, it pays to be prepared.

My first "out of body" experience was on my final teaching practice.

Picture this: my Year 1 class sitting on the carpet, listening to a story.

At the back Jenny turns white as a sheet, then coolly deposits a pile of foul-smelling sick on the carpet. The other children scream in horror and escape as fast as they can. I am left with a class of rioting children, and a disgusting mess.

The natural reaction is one of revulsion and horror, but it's important to deal with these things carefully. I remember an incident from my own primary school days, where a child wet himself in the classroom. The teacher made him stand on his chair and pointed out his wet trousers to the rest of us, shaming him in front of the whole class. He was mortified, and it put the fear of God into the rest of us too.

Even if you're teaching at secondary level, where you'd expect to escape such unpleasant incidents, you may have to deal with the occasional bloody nose. When the worst does happen, the key is to stay calm. Your pupils'

reaction will probably be extreme, but you must maintain a composed exterior in the midst of the chaos. Get them sitting calmly away from the mess and set a task to keep them occupied. Ensure that the child involved is okay, then send someone to get help.

It's a good idea to get friendly with the caretaker. He (or she) can generally make your life a lot easier, and will certainly be of help when you experience your first bodily expulsion. While you're waiting for him or her to arrive, open the windows - the smell of sick can linger.

If you teach a bunch of kids who do this on a regular basis, then it's probably worth investing in a box of disposable gloves and maybe some face masks. Get some air freshener too, to squirt around after the event.

Finally, if you do find yourself clearing up some dreadful mess, do try to bear in mind that if you're ever planning to become a parent, these experiences will stand you in good stead.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact:

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