Some time in 1995, I got a job as a School Librarian in a secondary school close to where I lived on the Wirral. I had been doing some supply teaching in this school when the vacancy came up so it was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time. It turned out to be one of my favorite jobs to this day.
To cut a long story short, the school had a library with roughly three thousand books housed in a nice space with plenty of shelving, etc. and plenty of space for users to sit and work, as well as a computer area. It even had a security gate so books could be fitted with tags although this equipment had never been used. What they didn’t have was a catalogue or any real system of organising the collection of books. Someone had divided the books up by broad subjects, science, art, etc. but other than that everything was a bit of a disorganised shambles. As a result, it was a very under-used resource and the top brass wanted something done about it. My task was simple. Sort it all out.
Anyway, suffice to say I did sort it out in the end but it was so successful that three or four years later the school library, which had become a Learning Resource Centre by this point, was buzzing and was managed by myself, now a Learning Resource Centre Manager, and a small team of volunteers/slaves/etc.
I’d recently been sent off to a book warehouse with £3000 and a wheelbarrow and most of my time during the day was now spent cataloguing this new stock and adding it to the shelves as and when. Generally speaking, there were rarely any problems and I just sat behind the counter tapping away and having the odd chat with the kids, etc. It was a nice, quiet, enjoyable and fairly easy job, except at lunchtime.
As I was a qualified teacher, the top brass had deemed it unnecessary to provide me with any help supervising the place at lunchtime. During the summer months this was not a problem as most of the kids wouldn’t be seen dead going to the school library at lunchtime if the weather was nice. However, during the winter months it was remarkable how many more of the kids started to take an interest in books. It got to the point where I could easily have over fifty kids in the LRC at lunchtime and many of them were not there to be academic.
As a school teacher, I never had any real issues with managing kids. It’s a profession where you really do reap what you sow. If you’re an arse and treat the kids unreasonably or like idiots you’ll have nothing but trouble. Conversely, if you are fair and honest with the kids and cut them the odd piece of slack here and there, you’re generally okay. Being over six foot tall helps too of course. However, kids are, by definition, not the finished article. They’re still learning to be adults so they don’t always behave appropriately or reasonably. That’s why we put them all in one place five days a week. It allows them to practice their social skills on one another in relative safety but also allows their parents to have a life and free up the time required to go out and provide for them. It’s not rocket science, even penguins do it.
However, managing fifty kids in a relatively small space with literally dozens of places to hide from view it not the easiest thing to do so lunchtimes on these days would require me to leave all the admin to my team of volunteers, all of whom knew what they were doing and could be relied on, while I patrolled constantly, tidying up and moving kids around or out if necessary. There were rarely any serious confrontations. The kids knew me as a rule and they also knew that some of my mates within the school staff could give them a really hard time if I asked them to. Occasionally, I would have to frighten the life out of everyone by balling a kid out and sending him or her packing but that only served to reinforce the message which was basically, ‘come in, sit down, don’t act like an idiot and you can stay. Otherwise, off you trot.’
Despite the above, it was the most stressful time of the day usually and on rainy, cold days, I could be quite wound up after an hour of biting my lip and trying not to throw anyone out of an actual window.
One day, after a particularly ‘busy’ lunchtime, the school’s caretaker, ‘Old Dave’, came into the LRC about something or other. By the way, he really was referred to as ‘Old Dave’ around the school because he had an assistant, ‘Young Dave’, who was actually quite old too as it happens. Anyway, Old Dave must have sensed something was wrong.
“You okay Bill?” he asked.
“Yeah Dave. Fine. Just wound up by these effing kids.” I replied.
“Ah. I see. Have you got a box?” he asked, looking down into the area beside me which was full of boxes of books waiting to be opened and catalogued.
“Well, yes, but they’ve got books in.” I said.
“Okay. Can you take all the books out of one of the boxes and give the box to me please?” he asked.
I was puzzled as to where this was going but if he needed a box, he needed a box. Accordingly, I emptied one of the boxes and handed the empty box to him.
“Got any tape?” he asked.
Naturally, I did so I handed this to him as well whereupon he began sealing the empty box shut. I was beginning to think he’d found something to burn on the school forge and had kept it all to himself again when he deftly completed his task and handed the box back to me. Then he gave me the single best piece of professional advice anyone had ever given me up to that point.
“After lunch tomorrow,” he said, “Just have a walk around the school with that box. Fifteen minutes, something like that. Doesn’t matter where you go really and no-one will be interested enough to ask you what’s in the box and where you’re going with it. It’ll help you unwind. Trust me.”
Old Dave winked and trotted off having obviously forgotten what he had come in for. Unless this was what he’d come in for of course.
The very next day, just as Old Dave had suggested, I took my box for a walk around the school for about twenty minutes just after lunch. Old Dave was right and for the next two years I would regularly take my completely empty cardboard box for a walk around the school and no-one ever stopped me or asked me anything about it in all that time, not once.
So, to finish the story, complete the journey and make the confession. To the managers of that school on the Wirral, I am sorry for deliberately giving you the impression I was busy almost every day just after lunchtime just so I could have some time to unwind from the stress I suffered every lunchtime trying to manage twice as many pupils as any of your much better paid teachers ever had to. It was an empty box. I wasn’t busy. I feel no remorse.
Thanks Old Dave. Best tip ever.