I don’t know if the teenage population of the rest of the world have to suffer this, but here in Britain, most 15-year-olds are required to complete a week of work experience. My particular school required me to find my own placement through a series of poorly penned emails and husky phone calls. My first call was to a well know book retailer that kept asking for my age and hung up on me after 54 seconds. It was lunchtime, they were busy and I was a kid trying to emulate Lord Alan Sugar’s tone of voice as to sound more professional.
21 phone calls later, I was rewarded with a pending case of tonsillitis and the knowledge that if you choked on your spit during a phone call, they would just put you on hold until you died and then move onto the next person.
For a few months, all efforts to confirm a placement jumped out the window with clipped wings and waited to become fossil fuels. My classmates had gotten placements at the vets, law firms and the House of Commons. They were destined to become well accomplished members of society with secure bank accounts and a glass of wine with cheese of Friday nights. On the other hand, I had a new mole on my middle finger and earned myself a detention when I showed it to my teacher.
So of course I ended up in a primary school.
My mum took me shopping the weekend before I was due to start my placement at the primary school door. I brought a new shirt in my least favourite colour and another blue pinstriped shirt with an odd silky texture as well as some black slacks. My mum didn’t seem too concerned, I mean, how badly could I mess up in a school? I was yet to be kicked out of my own.
Monday rolled around and I dragged my scuffed shoes off the bus and towards the bright scarlet entrance of the school. I ducked into the building and quietly informed the receptionist that I was Miss White’s work experience placement.
The school had no Miss White.
After 10 minutes of my insisting adamantly that the email I received from them clearly stated ‘your will be placed in Miss White’s classroom,’ the receptionist asked for me to take a seat and wait for the staff meeting to end. Annoyed, I slid my phone out of my pocket and tapped on the email.
‘you will be placed in Miss West’s classroom,’
Following my red faced apology to the receptionist, I greeted my temporary boss by calling her Miss White again and followed her into her classroom, which made me feel like the BFG’s freakishly gargantuan sister. Clearly having no idea what to do with her bright pink helper, Miss West asked for me to open her blinds and we stayed in stony silence for twenty minutes as I eventually began wipe the water stains off her windows with my spit.
Then, oh gosh the children came tumbling in like a wild eyed, sticky hurricane that smelt like soap and old trainers. I felt my entire being seize up as they seated themselves and Miss West asked for me to come up to the front. 38 pairs of ten-year-old eyes fixed into me and immediately regretted my choice of bright pink attire, they could charge at anytime.
‘This is our lovely helper for the week, her name is Vivien.’ Miss West said, a boy at the front squinted at me with a frog-like expression. Did he need to be burped?
‘Let’s make her feel welcome, okay?’ Miss West continued and then proceeded to hug me.
Now HOLD UP lady, I have no warranted you access to my bingo wings, back off or at least buy me sushi first.
Three hours later, I’d broken the school printer, sprayed coffee all over the new classroom display and argued with a child that 7 squared was 42. In the staff room, I was offered juice by a tall teaching assistant who must have pitied me, declined his offer and anxiously stood there gulping down glass after glass of ice cold water, until I choked and puked in my mouth.
By day three, I got so bored of doing nothing and still cocking up that I emptied a pack of cashew nuts into my trouser pockets for something to do whilst I stood at the back of the class, leaning against the top of a drawer. (I hadn’t been offered a chair and was too shifty to ask for one.)
I was trying to stay awake whilst a observing a Powerpoint presentation on Sir Richard Branson with far too many slide transitions, when I was tapped on the shoulder by Miss West and presented with four A4 sheets. She wanted each of her 38 students to have one of each and would I please go to the office and photocopy them all in time for the activity that she wanted to start in 5 minutes.
Sure, except I had no idea how to work a bloody photocopier.
The first time round, I accidently printed off 80 copies of an A3 sheet on individual A4 sheets and stood there helplessly as the copier spat out sheet after scorching sheet.
Eventually, I managed to get it right and stood there sweating vigorously as the office staff glared at the huge mound of paper in the recycling bin. I relayed each individual sheet as they came out of the copier to Miss West to make up for the amount of time I’d spent in the office and I could tell she was seriously considering asking me to please leave before I broke something else.
That lunchtime, Miss West told me I was free to go to the staffroom for lunch, clearly relieved to be free of me for an hour. Upon entering the staff room, I realised that I’d walked into a meeting where the same nurse that had taught me how to use a tampon five years ago, was informing the teachers on how to answer their student’s questions about sex.
After returning to the classroom and informing Miss West of the meeting that was taking place, I was horrified when she told me to go on in anyway. So I was left stranded in the corridor, hungry and unsure what do to. The only solution, it seemed, was to eat my bagel in the surprisingly clean bathroom and peek out the door until I saw the meeting end.
On my final day, I got tired of standing up and sat on the drawer I’d leant against for the whole week whilst everyone else was outside and yes, it broke.
That really was the mouldy cherry on the asparagus flavoured cake.
Dear school, I promise to try harder in Maths class so long as you never send me back there.
(please note that all names mentioned in this post, excluding my own, have been changed to respect the owner’s privacy)