Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Moo loud

"What's different, children?" asks Sasha, who, having run out of underlings to crush, proposals to reject and objectives to fulfil, is re-energising her batteries by sucking the lifeforce out of the rest of us in assembly.

The children look baffled, as well they might, and stare around them in the vain hope, shared, I suspect, by the other teachers, that somewhere around them is a great big speech bubble proclaiming, "Look at me! I'm different!"

No such luck.

"Little boy at the front," says Sasha, gesturing vaguely at the half dozen or so children who amply fulfil the description. Now they look at each other. Then one, braver than the others
, speaks up.

"That mole on your face is a bit bigger," he says, pointing.

There's a sharp intake of breath.

"I'll ignore that," says Sasha. "No. It's something outside."

Perhaps she's persuaded God to turn up to do the prayer at the end.

"It's the sun, sillies," says Sasha, with a smile that seems to include all of us, as well as the pupils. "And do you know what I think? I think it's because all you children have been behaving so well that you've made the weather pleased with you."

I can't help wondering how, on this basis, she'd rate the 10-year drought in parts of Australia. Logically speaking, you'd be praying for Satan and all his hosts of cloven-hoofed friends and relations to drop in for a long visit.

"But it's not always like that, is it, children?" she says. "Last week, there was lots and lots of rain, and I think the teachers must have been very unhappy indeed. So what I've done to make sure your behaviour is wonderful every day is to turn every day into a special day."

She calls up five children and presents each of them with a coloured chart.

"There's Manners Monday, Tidy Tuesday, Well-behaved Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday and Fab Friday. Now, as it's Tuesday, that means that today we're all going to try our hardest to put everything away whenever we've finished with it."

It's unfortunate that at this moment, her eye alights on the piano, which I tend to treat as a useful alternative desk. Right now, the top houses a miscellany of objects, including three tambourines, a small ball, a cuddly toy, my handbag, cycling helmet and some 'I ate a good lunch' stickers that have been there for months and show every sign of having settled in for life.

"I'm sure teachers will be wanting to sign up to Tidy Tuesday, won't they, Mrs Philistine?"

I dip my head, as if in thoughtful agreement.

The next day, Sasha happens to come in as I'm taking reception through the song I've just written for their summer play, which is themed to farmyard animals.

"'Moo loud, if you're proud, to be a cow,'" is the opening line, repeated fortissimo three times.

"Is that one of yours?" asks Sasha.

"It is," I say. "Bizarrely, it came to me in a flash just as I'd finished clearing up the piano. Tidiness clearly can be inspirational," I beam at her.

She gives me a long, long look and disappears.

Notes home

"'The best way of learning is to make learning a life experience,'" I say to Francis.

"It is?"

"Yes. It says so right here in the booklet from Deborah's school all about how to help with maths, so it must be true."

"So what are we supposed to do?" he asks, with all the enthusiasm of a Burmese general invited to display an 'I love democracy' sticker on his armoured car bumper.

"Take pocket money, for example," I say. "Guess what. It can be 'worked out in relation to saving for a particular item or in relation to change given'"

"What a fun idea," he says. "Can you imagine just how that'll make Deborah's little face light up on Saturday mornings when I perform the ceremonial unlocking of the wallet."

"And we can apparently transform dreary old shopping expeditions by 'searching for packaging in different 3-D shapes (e.g prisms).'"

"I can hardly wait."

"But best of all, there's bills. We've been so selfish, keeping those fun brown envelope moments to ourselves. From now on, what we'll be doing is involving every one in the excitement by 'discussing how they are laid out and calculated, asking children to check them and discuss methods of payment.'"

"Is begging one of the options Deborah's allowed to consider?"

I consult the booklet.

"Sadly, no. They assume that cash, cheque and direct debit will see us right."

"Sending children up Aga flues to remove noxious gas residues? Benefit cake sale?"

"No, again."

To cheer us both up, I show him the next letter, this time from Leo and Beth's school:

"The school now plans to tackle some sex education, covering a variety of sex-related issues including puberty-related topics, menstruation and menarche, conception, contraception, AIDS and safe sex, masturbation, homosexuality and any relevant queries raised by pupils. We will follow a loose pattern of topics."

"How loose?" asks Francis.

"Doesn't say. Elasticated waist, I'd imagine."

"But they really ought to pool their resources," says Francis. "I bet Beth and Leo's school could come up with lots of interesting ideas for 3-D shapes."

"Prisms might be tough," I say. "Perhaps I should call Bad LIndy and ask for ideas."