It is not unheard of for a teacher to be on their knees at the end of term. We soldier on, knowing that the WFH crew has no time – or inclination – to cry our pity party. In the words of Favourite Man, ‘You are a tired – and quite frankly, grouchy and unlikeable – person with a two week holiday to look forward to. Get over yourself and cheer up’
With this stoic advice ringing in my ears, I ignore my sore throat and soldier on through the last week of term. Since free Lateral Flow kits for schools are now a thing of the past, so is black market trading and I am too busy to get to Tesco’s to buy my own Covid breathalyser. I decide that a positive mental attitude and some delusional denial will see me through to the last bell if I socially distance and keep dousing myself with Berroca.
Besides, it would be shame to absent myself from school because the week has so much to give.
Sixth Formers rally to stage a pop up RAG Fayre in support of the Ukraine and, in my spirit of denial, I accept a student invitation to join the Headteacher on the ‘Sponge a Teacher’ stand. I feel certain that as other staff will have received the invitation to attend (Ok, I admit that I saw their names on the email circulation list and so – in the name of charity – may have accepted the invitation on their behalf to ensure a full turnout), there will be no time to include your’s truly in this ritual soaking. In my defence, I still bear the bruises from my first year as Head of Sixth Form when I was flattered to accept a similar invitation; since then I have learnt that an 18 year old who is just about to leave school – for ever – may need an opportunity to vent against the system and that they are unlikely to care who is in the firing line. My learning take away from this first ducking was that a waterproof poncho is scant protection against a strapping 18 year old with an axe to grind and a cold wet sponge in his hand.
Determined to count my blessings – I will never get through the week if I start to whinge – by the end of the RAG Fayre I count myself fortunate to have learnt the following:
- Waterproof mascara can work but is more effective behind a pair of safety goggles (thank you, Science Faculty).
- My grandmother was incredibly wise to always carry a plastic rain bonnet in her handbag
- That 18 year old strapping lad (who has tested me in a non -Covid way throughout his time in Sixth Form) on seeing me quake on the firing line behind my ineffective poncho, proved he could be a gentleman by buying up all the wet sponges and choosing – gallantly I feel – to throw underarm. Our work here is done; this man will go far.
Next day, just to ensure that staff can really appreciate a two week break, we squeeze in a Year 9 Parent Evening and I remind myself that at least these evenings can no longer class as a ‘super spreader’ event. Parent Evenings now exist online and at 5 minute intervals teachers beam directly into our students’ homes. There can be no late appointments, no car parking issues and warring parents no longer have the power to make their child uncomfortable by appearing argumentatively on site together.
Stupidly, because I AM SO TIRED, I have forgotten to book myself any comfort breaks throughout the evening and consequently my calls are back to back for three hours. I can feel my throat struggling, but I soldier on with FM’s words in my ears, knowing that his WFH existence is so much harder than mine in the world of education. I would message him with some words of encouragement between my appointments but I have not got the time and I know he doe not like to be interrupted when ‘Pointless’ is on.
Instead I work within my own game show, pitting myself against a relentless countdown clock, trying to say everything there is to say about the Year 9 English curriculum before the next family flashes up on my screen. I admit that I am nosy enough to be distracted from Shakespeare by background artwork, kitchen decor and the paralinguistic of a family grouping; I am tetchy enough to be annoyed when a parent logs in on their mobile phone and walks you around their evening ‘ablutions’ – camera on or off – so that there is no interruption to the flow of their evening piano practice, dog walk or pizza delivery. ‘Sorry, someone is at the door, let me hand over to Johnny so that he can tell you how much he hates your lessons.’
Next day I rally to fulfil my lunchtime responsibilities – namely stemming a tide of hungry Year 8’s who want to jump to the front of the lunch queue. I can feel that my voice is unlikely to hold back this crowd and I wonder if I should use the PE whistle which has hung uselessly around my neck for the last two years. I am distracted by a habitual queue jumper who is trying to sidle past unnoticed. She is familiar to me and our lunch time conversations rarely end well. However, this time I am disarmed by her response to my cold Paddington stare:
‘Miss, have you had Botox?’
I am thrown, not knowing whether to be flattered or insulted. I regroup with a fake chuckle and the conversation continues like this:
‘Botox? On a teacher’s salary, you must be having a laugh.’
‘Seriously Miss, you look like you have.’
‘When would I have had the time or the energy to book myself in for Botulim toxin injectables?
‘Well, your cheeks look swollen. Maddie, come up here, don’t you think Miss looks like she’s had Botox on her face?’
‘If I have had Botox – and I am not confirming or denying this, girls – I would surely be asking for a refund…wouldn’t I? Girls? ‘
I do not receive an answer to my neediness, for the Year 8 student – and her friend – has made the most of this distraction to shoot past the dinner lady to grab the piece of pizza she was unwilling to queue for. I pop into the Student Centre to ask the First Aider – who knows the instigator of this conversation only too well – whether she thinks I should be flattered or insulted by this exchange. She interrogates my face closely and says hesitantly, ‘flattered I think, but your face does look a little swollen. Have you been crying?’
I decide I will choose to be flattered by the reference to Botox. If my face looks plumped up after Easter, it is likely to be the result of a chocolate fest rather than any clinical procedure and I can reassure myself that 3 for 1 offers on creme eggs at Tesco’s are likely to cost less than an appointment for a filler of a less sickly kind. I do, however, reserve the right to backtrack on the Botox decision; if the Year 8 lunch queue becomes overly critical next term I may bow to their expertise and ask for their personal recommendations.
Last day of term at last and my colleague magically hosts a Sixth Form Easter Egg hunt – I say magically because he makes it appear as if the organisation happened without intervention, without fellow teachers cutting up Easter rabbits, running around site at first light, hiding cryptic clues and paper eggs. Thanks to Covid, we have not been able to run this event for the past two years and I simply could not remember how the event was supposed to run. I also had no voice. I was as much use to my colleague as my swollen face is to the world of beauty. However, I like to feel that he appreciated my support – feeble though it was – for I stood throughout the event clutching a large bowl of chocolate eggs (I may have sampled a few for the sake of cosmetic research) while he ricocheted Easter gags off the best attended Sixth Form assembly of the year.
So swelling with pride and chocolate, we start the Easter break. Did I mention that we teachers have TWO WHOLE WEEKS OFF? I have no words.
Oh yes I have.
Suddenly I find myself with the time and the energy to message Favourite Man about my holiday intentions. I know he will be pleased for me. Cheers.