On an overcast and humid Monday engaged, as one is, in the travails of education there are many associated problems to tax one: over-reliance on questionable examinations for assessment; an overcrowded curriculum; a ridiculously long teaching day and, most heinously a reduction in pay for teachers! All these, and more rise up to haunt a normal day.
But these are not things which really tax my patience there are other, much more serious elements in one’s teaching life which cause more angst than the mere fripperies of educational thought and practice.
The first is milk. We have milk provided by the powers that be so that we can fortify ourselves against the depredations of our clients by a saving cup of tea or, for those of a perverse nature, coffee. The milk is of the artificial long-life variety and is stored in the cupboard under the coffee machine. That is, it should be stored there.
On a Monday I park my car outside one building (for a quick getaway at the end of the day) and then walk to the other to compose myself for teaching. Part of this composition is taking tea and, because I am prepared to rough it by using a common or garden tea bag I temper the rough flavour with a soupçon of milk. Which, each Monday is not there. And when I check in the cupboard under the coffee machine is not there either.
The milk storage facility is located deep in the lair of the caretaker which is through a service doorway at the bottom of a flight of stairs. And every Monday I seem to traipse down and through and come back up with the week’s supply of milk. Because of the location of the staff room, our milk supply is also the supply for the office staff, the directora and anyone else who arrives of sufficient importance to merit liquid refreshment.
And then there is the photocopier.
Photocopiers have been the bane and the delight of my teaching life in equal quantities. They give and they certainly take; they build up your hopes and dash them with impunity.
My grouse is with the paper. Photocopiers have to be fed and, given the number of copies that we make, fed regularly. I only question the regularity with which I have to get reams of paper and placate the pre-emptory digital demands of the autocratic information panel when one of the multiple paper trays is out of that commodity. Statistically I am owed a period of paper peace which extends well into the years that I will be retired to make up for the releasing of five hundred sheets after five hundred sheets into the innards of the machines that I have tended through the time that I have been in education!
In the same way I have been to the office to get more paperclips, drawing pins, Sellotape and marker pens than the rules of logic and fairness would suggest that I should. It is a restatement of that irritating piece of doggerel philosophy about everyone thinking that anyone can do something so it’s somebody else’s responsibility so nobody actually does it. I know that the original piece of twisted logic is much longer than that with a metaphorical wagging finger punctuating each phrase, but there is a limit to trite wisdom that I can take so its shortened form will have to suffice.
What I am trying to say is that I seem to do more than my fair share of the unimportant but essential semi-tasks that need to be done in a normal school so that things can run smoothly. Which, of course they do not, which is also part of my moan, because that shows that others are not doing the things that they are ignoring, and I’m buggered if I am going to do more. So there!
The overcast morning has given way to an intermittently bright and sunny afternoon and certainly one which demands my presence somewhere else other than in school.
We have counted the days remaining and there appear to be just 13 full teaching days before the fiesta at the end of the course which marks with its conclusion the departure of the kids. The remaining week (pupil free) is something which we can contemplate with a degree of equanimity which Lao Tzu himself might envy - in spite of the fact that it will be filled with frustratingly irrelevant activity!
I continue to swim daily and I also continue to have a lane to myself. This cannot continue. At some point I will be confronted with a person in the lane that I want to use and there are no directions for the proper etiquette to be observed when sharing lanes. In the municipal pool there are little signs indicating that multi-swimmers must adopt an anti-clockwise mode if they are not to incur the wrath of the attendants. There are no such signs in the pool I am now using so (especially if I am not wearing contact lenses and am therefore practically unsighted) there is plenty of room for social and linguistic confusion.
The taste of the water in the new pool is unique in my experience. I hope that the distinctive – if difficult to describe – flavour of the water is due entirely to the chemicals added to mitigate the fetid contributions of other pool users, but it does not have the easy to define chlorinated aroma which has accompanied my swimming ever since I can remember. No, this flavour is almost meaty in its mouth-filling quality and is surprisingly un-medical in its aftertaste.
You get used to the “flavour” quite quickly and the taste soon becomes unremarkable which is disturbing considering how unpleasant the taste is when you get in. Whatever chemicals there are in the water they must be remarkable efficient if they can deaden the taste buds in double quick time!
I am enjoying the unrestricted length of the pool and I have now trained the two people who run the café next to the centre to make a decent cup of tea! Bliss! If only they had free British newspapers I would be ecstatic. Still, I must remember to bring my I-pad and I will have The Week at hand!
Meanwhile my Worst Day awaits. But how many of them are left: thee including today. Manageable! Just. Even though great chunks of the school have finished their courses or are taking examinations I still have five periods to teach today with the necessity for my scurrying between buildings after each bloody lesson. My swim at the end of the day will be more balm than exercise – even allowing for the odd taste of the experience.
And the days continue to be counted down.