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From Snot And Vomit To Lions In The Classroom, Teaching Is A Very Messy Business

In a room full of children it can sometime seem that biology is out to get you, says Sue Cowley

  • From Snot And Vomit To Lions In The Classroom, Teaching Is A Very Messy Business

When you start out as a teacher, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the good advice you are given. Experienced teachers offer you all kinds of helpful hints about what works best in their classrooms and your mentor gives you top tips on getting through the first year.

But somehow no one ever seems to mention how downright messy primary teaching can be. Not in the sense of handling resources (although this is often a tricky business), but simply basic biology.

On every primary teacher’s desk is a box of tissues. This is not necessarily because they have a cold (although you will certainly catch a few hundred bugs in your first few years as a teacher). No, it is because of the 30 snot-filled noses sniffing on the carpet in front of you.

One of the first strategies you’ll learn is the ‘tissue movement’. As you watch a globule of snot trickle down the child’s face towards his mouth, you leap in at lightning fast speed to hand over a tissue, so that the drip can be captured before it gets licked up and swallowed.

When you lift that lunchtime cheese sandwich towards your mouth, always ask yourself the critical question: do I have clean hands?

When you’ve been interacting with small children all morning, your hands will have basically turned into one of the world’s most powerful biological weapons. Always keep a bottle of hand sanitiser on your desk and a packet of baby wipes in your drawer.

Noses and hands might be fairly easy to keep clean, but one of your main biological enemies in the primary classroom is sometimes harder to spot. That is, until you feel that itch; it usually begins around your ears, or at the nape of your neck.

You know what it signifies but you hardly dare admit it to yourself, because it signals what is likely to be weeks of combing your hair nightly. Invest in a nit comb and keep long hair tied back.

Anticipating and dealing with vomit is, not to put too fine a point on it, one of a primary teacher’s most finely honed skills. If a child tells you that they are going to be sick, always believe them and pass over a bucket. The one time you ignore them will inevitably result in a lot of vomit ending up on your rug.

Many small children also suffer from travel sickness. If a pupil says they are feeling sick on a coach journey, ask them to sit on some ‘magic newspaper’. This has two benefits: often, it will stop the child from being sick, but even if it doesn’t, at least the mess will all be caught in one place.

With vomiting children in mind, make sure to dress wisely. Norovirus often decides to sweep its way around your classroom on the day you decide to wear your expensive designer top to school. Of course, it’s critical not to overlook your own biological functions as well. The wise teacher never passes up an opportunity to visit the toilet, because you never know when you might next get the chance.

And finally, in all situations, expect biology to hit you with the unexpected. In the warmth of an early autumn afternoon, a single dozy wasp in your classroom will cause mayhem and destroy even the most finely crafted lesson as the children scream and duck.

And if you think a single wasp is bad, an entire swarm of bees once entered the school where I was teaching; they roamed the corridors as the children fled in terror from their advance. A fellow teacher told me about the time a cat fell into her classroom through the ceiling tiles, right in the middle of a planned observation.

Nothing can beat a story from 1980, when two lions called Girlie and Jessie escaped from Chipperfield’s circus and invaded a school. In a report of the event it was noted that one of the lions jumped through a glass panelled door and surprised a pupil eating her lunch. Fortunately it was more interested in her sandwiches than anything else.

Sue Cowley is an author and teacher trainer. Her latest books Road School and The Artful Educator are published by Crown House. Visit roadschooldiary.co.uk.

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