When you can't bear to be with them

Sean McPartlin

An American once taught me the expression: "Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you." It's not the most sophisticated of philosophies, but it can certainly apply in education.

We don't have a big group of challenging pupils but, by lunchtime on the Tuesday after the October break, it seemed like I had dealt with each and every one of them. That was followed up by an afternoon leadership team meeting, which focused depressingly on the educational equivalent of the credit crunch; discussing budgets is seldom good news.

I sat slumped at my desk at the end of the day, frantically focusing on the one highlight. Then the phone rang and, one short irascible conversation later, even my bright spot had been cancelled.

So I headed home with all the gloom of a day that started badly and got worse. My wife, taking one look at me, and with her guidance hat on, prescribed a trip to the gym to run off the tension.

Twenty minutes on the running machine made it obvious that the remedy wasn't working: aching legs and a tight chest suggested I was still too wired to relax. I reluctantly gave up and returned to the locker room where I contemplated my next test.

The fates have decided that our local chip shop, frequently voted into the top 10 in Scotland, lies between the gym and my house. After a really good session, I occasionally reward myself with a fish supper; other times, chilled and serene, I glide past, smugly immune to the call of the deep fryer. However, I really didn't want to complete my horrible day by succumbing to comfort eating of a haddock.

The answer lay in the spa pool: a good soak would expunge the day's trials. The pool area was quiet, and I had the spa to myself. It was beginning to work, shoulders loosening, mind turning to other things.

Then two women came in talking animatedly. Eventually, as you do, I tuned in to their chat: they were job-sharing primary teachers, doing their handover, running through each pupil, and you could just bet it was a class of 25. With a silent scream, I leapt from the pool and gave up in despair.

Salt and sauce, please.

Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy, Livingston.

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Sean McPartlin

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