Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Fresh from autumn’s school visits . . . with a few wee gripes by Tracy Alexander

I like going into schools. I love to see the kids laughing and, once they’ve got used to me and vice versa, it’s great to see them engaged in making up a story using my props. But . . . there’s always a niggle or two, or (for the purposes of this blog post) three.

My reliable navigation aid, Waze, directs me to the school using user-generated data which tracks the current traffic flow to advise me of the best route. I am twenty minutes early. Excellent, plenty of time to sign in, read the safeguarding leaflet, go to the loo and set up the flipchart – which I have already requested. (In our correspondence we have also covered the content, the timings, the book sales and the fee.) I glance at the building to ascertain where the car park is. And do not see a car park. I see a lollipop man (aka school crossing patrol officer) and a swarm of children and parents and buggies and dogs and lots of cars and vans and a Warburton’s lorry. I take the first left and stop on double yellow between yet another van and a red mini. Waze is indignant. I pick up my phone and search for the email that will, of course, have a contact phone number on the footer. The footer is a long way away as there have been many tos and fros in the organising of this school visit.
A-ha! I tap the number into my phone. I reach an IVR system that is keen for me to listen to all the options before I decide. At last, yes, I would like to speak to someone.

The receptionist is very sorry but the car park is tucked away behind the school, accessed by a narrow lane. It is also small and has no visitor spaces today. She suggests I find a space on the road. This is both unlikely and impractical as I have a box of books and a dustbin to carry. I, politely, ask whether she might contact the teacher who has invited me to visit. I wait in my car for a resolution. I am in the way, but not a hazard to children or other pedestrians. Time ticks. And, a space becomes available. Some clever strategist has worked out that I can block in another car as I am only here for a couple of hours. I turn around. Waze is pleased. The caretaker meets me at the gate and unlocks the padlock. He has a sack truck. We still have seven minutes. I chat as he manoeuvres the awkward load. We’re good.

Note to self: Always ask the school to organise a parking space. If necessary, mention that I am bringing a dustbin.

The eighty children from Year 4 are excited. Excellent. They invade the hall and we huddle around my dustbin and flipchart. The session begins. It is going very well until a man with an iPhone arrives, whispers to the teacher in charge and I am duly interrupted for a photo. I suggest we wait until the end . . .but no, evidently the man with the iPhone has to do it now. I would like to protest but don’t. I apologise to the smiley faces and try to make a camera-ready smile of my own. (This never works.)

Back in front of the fidgeting crowd, I start again, drawing them back into the story we are creating. And the bell goes. No problem, there are bells in schools. But this bell brings with it all the children from the two classes adjoining the hall. I had noticed the hanging rails in the corner, replete with coats, but their presence hadn’t set off the warning they should have. The two classes traipse around, through, past, and over us. They struggle into their outdoor clothes. I smile forgivingly at the staff, for whom this is presumably a regular occurrence, and attempt to hold the attention of Year 4. This is difficult. I cannot shout over the rigmarole that is the beginning of breaktime. The audience turns into a rabble. (They are not having breaktime. I banish the idea that breaktime would be better than spending an hour or so with me.)
Quiet again, we take up the tale where we’d left off. A few minutes pass.
            ‘Wet play!’
            The two classes, wrapped up in rainproof wear, all troop back in again. No!!!!
            I loudly suggest they keep their coats on rather than reverse the whole caboodle. Good idea, Tracy. The two classes disappear behind the doors.

Note to self: Always ask the school whether there is a venue where, or a time when, we will not be interrupted. Make it clear that interruptions are not welcome.

The session is over. We have made up a great story using props from my bin. The twenty children who want books are queuing for a signature. I can almost smell the coffee I am going to buy on the way to pick up my dog.
When I get home I will grab some lunch and then I need to get the beds ready and go to the supermarket, as my sister is arriving with her family. The afternoon is unfolding in my mind . . .
The teacher asks, in front of the children I have been entertaining, whether I would mind reading some of the work they have completed in class based on my book. There is only one answer to this question. I sign the books, and follow the teacher to her classroom. Every child has written his or her own summary of a favourite scene from my book. I am flattered, really I am. But I have not factored this into my day.
I squat next to each child, listen to a reading of the piece, and say lovely things. It is easy to say lovely things, but it takes time.
I have made my way along the back row but there are two more rows. These rows contain particularly chatty children. Some of the children have written particularly long pieces. The bell goes as I reach the last table of two. Around me the class empties. But I am still there . . . engaged in conversation with two delightful boys who liked the part where Copper Pie gets Jonno in a headlock. Behind them, I notice the teacher hovering. She is clearly trying to extricate me.
As the last children head off for lunch, I smile at the teacher. She has one last request . . .

Note to self: Establish not just start time but estimated departure time. Treat like a train journey.

My next school visit is after half term. Let’s see . . .


Susan Price said...

Brought back some unhappy memories!

Penny Dolan said...

Great post, Tracy! It's all these niggles that burn up visit energy to no purpose, imo, and I recognised your swirling hordes on a rainy day scenario.

My own arrival hate is when the car-park gate is locked at 8.30am to block use by parents and delivery vans, which I can see the sense in, other than this is also the time when the caretaker goes off with the keys for his breakfast. Until 9.30. My rule is always to ask about parking arrangements if you travel with big loads (or with dustbins.)

You were very kind over the reading through of the children's writing at short notice. The keen teachers and children are the hardest to refuse, but looking through a few stories always takes far longer than one expects. There comes moments like this when one suddenly gives in and thinks "Okay. I'm here for as long as it takes," even though this isn't a good policy long-term.