Tom Starkey: don’t say the ‘c’ word (cover, that is…)

Nothing in a teacher’s life is so filled with unending hope and potential than the blessed free period. It represents a shining beacon of light in the darkness; a cool oasis in the burning desert of a hardened pedagogue’s working week. It is a sacred place where every single piece of outstanding marking that you’ve not had the time to look at will be completed. A place where you will be able finally to sample that cake that has been sat there beckoning you from the corner of the office for the past couple of days. A place where you will sit unharassed in the one comfy chair. A world of possibility opens and sanctuary, safety and sanity awaits.

Or not, as the case so very often is.

Because as a desert oasis can sometimes turn out to be a mirage, the free period has an awful habit of evaporating into the shimmering air, leaving nothing but the dream of a promise unfulfilled. Visions of comfy chairs, cake and catching up on those Year 8 books are replaced by the coming of a more immediate, visceral and very real horror: that of the unplanned cover lesson.

The unplanned cover lesson is the Joker to the free period’s Batman. An arch villain waiting in the wings to snatch the desperately needed 45 minutes-or-so away from you at a moment’s notice, replacing it with the prospect of a session so awful that you end up cursing the person that put you in such a horrendous position, no matter what injury, illness or family tragedy has befallen them.

She broke her leg? That’s great but now I’ve got a cover lesson. Radiation poisoning? Terrible. So’s the fact I’ve got a cover lesson.

Family wiped out by a group of enraged otters during a freak accident at the zoo? COV-ER LESS-ON. You are hearing me aren’t you?

Because no reason is enough to have the prospect of 2-day-old cake dashed on the rocks of Mr Dreadon’s class who, apparently, are eagerly awaiting their lesson in something called ‘history’ or some such nonsense.

Mr Dreardon (who is not remotely dead and therefore has little excuse for such piggishly selfish behaviour) has taken it upon himself to email a three-page lesson plan instructing me on the finer points of some bloody thing that has already happened and therefore has no bearing in comparison to him stealing my free period with his pitiful not-explained-bydeath absence today.

I stalk into the classroom and immediately they know, oh they know how much trouble they’re in. I don’t care – it’s guilt by association with a feckless, good-for-nothing, beatnik part-timer and I’m sorry, but someone has to pay. Amjad volunteeers:

“Hi Sir,” he says in his crushingly optimistic falsetto. “What are we going to do today?”

I look at him in silence for a moment that would be uncomfortable had it been 15 seconds or so shorter but now skates into terrifying. Each of my words drips with malice and the prospect of the awful things that will happen to Amjad if he continues with this foolhardy attempt at communication.

“Why… I’m not sure Amjad. This is a history class yes? Well let’s just say that if things don’t go the way I want them to, history… is what you will become.”

Amjad is quiet forever after. I take a quick look at the workshy twonk’s lesson plan (if only to see if there’s space enough to draw some heinously crude sketches) and as I scan the objectives it’s clear that there’s thought gone into this.

My disdain starts to wane ever so slightly. I look at how it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about, and the students in front of him. My righteous fury abates a teensy-tiny little bit. To my outright disgust, it turns out the lesson plan actually pretty good.

I sigh. The expectations we have in this job often come a cropper when faced with the everyday pressures. It’s not fair, it’s not right but sometimes it just can’t be helped. Sometimes the otters eat someone’s family and you find there’s no cake waiting for you when you get back from teaching a really nice bunch a pretty good lesson about some event that was important to people ages ago.

But I tell you something, next week I’m sitting in that damn chair.

Thanks for reading.

About the author

Tom Starkey is a teacher in an FE college in the north of England. He blogs at stackofmarking.word @tstarkey1212