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Photo: Getty Images

SocietyApril 29, 2019

A 12-hour day in the life of an intermediate school principal

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A school teacher’s day starts well before the first child walks in the gate, and ends well after the last leaves. For Traci Liddall, the principal of an intermediate school, the day begins before the sun rises and work doesn’t stop for weekends or holidays.

5.30am: The alarm goes. I lean over and turn it off, but don’t turn the light on. No need as it has been on since 4. An hour and a half of quiet to chew through some paperwork with no interruptions

6.40am: I’m heading out to the car for my daily commute. On a good day it’s a 35 minute drive. On a bad day, well who knows.

7.30am: I’m at school, just made a pot of coffee (paid for personally as part of the school coffee club) and the first staff start to drift in. This is a good time to catch up before the rush. Peter and I talk about issues he’s having with his teen daughter, Amy asks about the new science plan, Dan spills coffee all over the floor, again. It’s called ‘doing a Dan’ around here.

8.25am: Heading out to the front gate. Students have been arriving in a steady trickle for the last 10 minutes, and the netball girls have been released from the hall after their early morning practice. I hope there is coffee left for Awhi, room 1 teacher and netball coach. She’s here before me on a Tuesday for coaching and is desperate for caffeine before she heads off to class.

Gate duty can be tough. It’s great interacting with the students as they come in, but managing traffic ie parents can be fraught. A small but significant number consistently put the convenience of their own child above the safety of others. I’ve been given the one finger salute, been ignored, shouted at and even threatened with being run over just for asking parents to move on and not park across the yellow lines or pedestrian crossing. Fortunately, today there is only one parent who parks inappropriately, and she moves on quite quickly.

Illustration from The Side Eye by Toby Morris

8.45am: The bell rings. School has started. It takes me 15 minutes to move through the school, greeting students, picking up rubbish and having a cursory look at the buildings and surrounds. I notice some new graffiti which has popped up overnight so make a mental note to mention it to Matt, the caretaker.

9.30am: My first meeting of the day. We had an attempted abduction late last week so am meeting with the police for a debrief and to go over the bulletin going out to the community. It’s so important to get it right, inform but not unduly alarm. I want to take my lead from the police but the officers look barely out of short pants and spelt Principal with an le so maybe not.

10.05am: It’s interval and I quickly catch up with the teacher of the child involved in the almost abduction. It’s a tricky juggling act between keeping her informed but maintaining confidentiality.

10.30am: I finally get to sit at my desk and clear some emails. Lots of unsolicited advertising as usual. I reply with a copy of the unsolicited electronic advertising law. Petty I know but it seems to do the trick. There is also a message from a parent about bullying which I pass onto the classroom teacher and DP to investigate, a thank you from the people who hire the hall and a request from the cleaners for me to order more rubbish bags. I then get a call from a teacher in the science resource room. It’s wet. Really wet. Stinky squishy carpet and blown out chipboard shelving kinda wet.

11.30am: Back from the science resource room. Haven’t worked out where the water is coming from. There are a number of possibilities but with an old building like this, with original roofing circa 1946, chasing leaks is a pretty regular occurrence. We should have been re-roofed last year but the tender came in at almost double the MoE budget so we have ended up with patches on patches and have gone back to the drawing board. The longer we wait the worse the problem will get of course but MoE property is nothing if not consistent. Consistently slow and consistently budget driven ahead of the needs of kids.

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12pm: I’m feeling a bit light-headed and realise my food and water intake today has consisted of about 10 cups of coffee so make myself a bowl of porridge. A box of single serve packets live in my cupboard and have saved me from near starvation on more than one occasion. While eating it I catch up with Mona, a first year teacher who is working from the staffroom. It’s a tricky place to work from as there are often people in and out, but the school is over capacity so working spaces are hard to come by. She’s looking pretty frazzled so we talk through what’s on top for her, and ways that we can support her as she comes to terms with this thing called teaching.

12.55pm: The bell rings for lunch. This afternoon block is sports and languages so several groups of students assemble in the foyer ready to head out to where ever they are going. Arlene is missing again, as she always is on sports day. Why she signed up for the walking group in the first place is a mystery to me. I find her hiding in the toilets. It’s not a great hiding place, especially when she hides there in the same stall every week.

1.35pm: The offsite students have all gone, bar Ronald who never seems to know which sport he’s in. I check the roll and find he should have gone with the trampoliners but he’ll have to join the soccer kids now as the trampoline bus left 15 minutes ago.

2pm: I meet with a DP for an update on the bullying. It turns out to be Instagram (AGAIN) and has been happening for a while. The bully is no longer a student here and it has been happening outside of school hours (Instagram is blocked here) so we recommend the parents contact the police.

2.40pm: A couple of ex students who go to the local girls high pop in to say hello and give me a hug. It’s great to see they are happy and doing well, but equally cool that they still see this as a safe place. They plonk themselves on my sofa, growl me about my messy office and share their bag of chippies with me.

3pm: School is out for another day. I stand in the foyer and farewell the students as they walk past. Some stop for a chat but most are eager to get to whatever comes next.

3.15pm: Staff meeting. Every week the teaching staff meet for up to two hours. Today we look at health and safety – we have a short presentation about type one diabetes as we have three diabetic students. There’s some discussion around getting initial IEPs (Individual Education Plans) completed and some personal development with the lead teacher in charge of our new e-system which, when fully up and running, should be able to take over from traditional reporting to parents. The idea seems to be greater than practice at present but we are all optimistic.

5pm: I grab a cup of tea and catch up the day with my DPs. We have a great relationship so there is plenty of banter and laughter as we go over the day, discuss the Instagram issue, talk about our cyber bullying procedure and roll our eyes over the leak. I write myself a quick list of all the things I need to do tomorrow that I didn’t get to today, re-prioritising the things that I didn’t get to from last week.

5.25pm: I’m outta here. I should be home not long after 6. I wonder what’s in the fridge for tea.

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