"You'll be fine, dear."
The young man turned towards the doorway and smiled faintly. It was his first day of teaching, and he would only admit to himself that he felt a faint tingle of nerves. The head teacher smiled fondly towards him, and pressed a cup of tea into his hands.
"You worry too much, Simon," she said confidently. "After today, you'll wonder why you were so anxious in the first place."
Simon frowned, looking slightly put out with his new employer. "I'm not anxious, merely slightly unsure as to how the day will progress." He took a long sip of his tea and gazed through the staffroom window at the hundreds of children milling around and waving goodbye to their families on the third of September. He could only hope to do well by them.
The screaming and shouting from outside already seemed too loud to him, and his forehead creased with worry. He scanned the playground idly, and a pair of eyes looked back. A small boy, who looked a little too young to be in his own class, gave him a fleeting smile before vanishing into the throng.
"You've got today all planned out then?" the head teacher asked, a faint smile touching her lips.
"Of course!" Simon answered a little more indignantly than he'd intended. He had the grace to look perhaps slightly embarrassed for himself, and when he turned back to his companion, one of her eyebrows was raised questioningly. "I'm sorry, Ruth, perhaps I am slightly apprehensive."
She laughed a bright, tinkling laugh that warmed the place instantly, and from behind one of the cupboard doors, a young man squeezed out. "Two minutes and thirty-five seconds!" he announced cheerfully. "That means that the winner is…" he glanced down at the clipboard he held in his hands momentarily "Jackie!" He glanced up to Ruth, a slightly edgy smile on his face.
Dennis Partridge, Simon's memory reminded him, was as nervous as he was scruffy. Though Simon had met him but a few times, he had frequently observed him tucking his shirt back into a pair of overlarge trousers, or attempting to hastily remove a stain on his shirt without being observed. As one of the few men in the school, Simon had already tried to speak to him a few times, though as the school's deputy, he was often unavailable. Ruth had him running all kinds of errands when she was indisposed.
"What's going on…?" Simon asked, looking from one bright unapologetic smile to the nervous and fearful expression on the other. "What's two minutes thirty-five?"
"The time it took you to admit to being nervous about your first day teaching," Ruth explained, patting him on the back. "You lasted longer than I gave you credit for."
"Two minutes thirty-five," Simon repeated faintly, "Let me see that list!" He made a grab for Dennis, who pulled away sharply.
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Mr Glass, sir!" Dennis yelped, and swiftly placed one of the chairs present between himself and his attacker. The room was filled with assorted seating of all sizes, shapes and colours. They all matched in the level of comfort however; most staff could be heard to complain that they would be better off sitting on the floor.
"Mr Glass?" Simon laughed, the pool on his nervousness forgotten momentarily. Dennis seemed to remember with whom he was speaking then and snorted faintly, shaking his head at himself. He tossed the list onto the coffee table and made to leave.
"You'd better get used to it," he said to Simon, stopping briefly in the doorway, "you're a teacher now."
"Incidentally, don't you have a class to teach?" Ruth asked sweetly, enjoying the look on her latest teacher's face as it turned whiter by the moment. She had been unaware that Simon could run so fast, as he raced past her and Dennis down the corridor towards his classroom.
"No running in the hallways, Mr Glass!"
Simon only felt relaxed when the chaos of the new class had died down, and they were all seated before him at one of six different tables. He had called the register to find none absent, and decided to take it as a good sign. Now that he was here, he found himself unable to recall why he had been so ill at ease that morning, when twenty-five cheerful seven year-olds gazed up at him in expectation.
He had acknowledged the young boy he had seen so momentarily outside with a slight smile, and a feeling of surprise; Harry barely looked old enough to be in the first class with the five year-olds, let alone his, but he had settled down quietly and quickly enough, not pausing to speak to any of the other children as his classmates had done. In Simon's eyes, he seemed slightly older than the rest.
"Good morning, class," he said brightly, moving with confidence to the front of the room. "I am Mr Glass, and for this year, I shall be your teacher."
Silence fell in the room, and under his influence, the first morning's class went almost without conflict at all. Already, he found himself trying to take stock of all the children, and had a seating plan set out for them to take after dinner that would see them through the year. A quick glance around the room, and he tried to assess which children were going to cause trouble, who would need a little more help, and who could stand more easily alone. The bell rang for dinner, and his class left the room for the main hall with whoops and calls to each other; Simon shook his head, trying to dispel the first impressions he had made. They were almost never right in his experience. He closed the classroom door behind him and headed off to the staffroom.
A woman perhaps slightly older than him flashed him a bright smile when he opened the door. "Thanks, Simon!" Jackie said with a smirk, flashing a twenty pound note before it disappeared into her purse. He frowned half-heartedly in the face of the staff around him, and took a place by Jackie's side. Simon had met Jackie twice before; she was the school's secretary, and seemed to spend her entire day on the phone arguing or drafting letters to the school on Ruth's behalf.
Someone snorted to his left. "That's the last time I have faith in the courage of men," Stephen muttered, grabbing a mug from behind him, "I bet that you wouldn't admit to your nerves at all. You new teachers are all as weak as each other…" Stephen Montgomery was how Simon envisaged himself in ten years' time: cheerful, at ease, and well experienced at teaching.
"Yeah, like you were never a new teacher, scared out of his wits by a group of children!" someone laughed from across the room.
Simon took a deep breath and smiled nervously at Jackie. "So how's it going, honestly?" she asked, with an expression that said she was ready to hear whatever news he had, be it good or bad.
He ran a hand through his hair in an unconscious motion he'd picked up some ten years or so ago, back when he was an unruly kid in his mid-teens, rebelling against everything he could. "Well, it's not so bad. We've not done much really, I've just been trying to get to know the kids a little."
"Any favourites so far…?" Jackie asked bravely, and Simon could tell that a few ears around him had perked up to hear who he had already picked out as the favoured.
"Well, it's a little early to be singling kids out, don't you think?" Simon hedged, and Stephen snorted with laughter.
"Come on, who do you think will be the first kid this year whose parents you're going to have to meet over misbehaviour?" Stephen asked, coming to sit down on the coffee table. Ruth clucked at his misuse of the furniture, and from behind her, Dennis pulled out another clipboard, seemingly from nowhere.
A hand ran through messy hair again. "I don't know, maybe Piers? I think his name's Piers," Simon finally sighed, thinking of the most troublesome-looking child who had been in his classroom that morning.
"Ooh, it's good but it's not right!" Stephen smiled brightly. Jackie rolled her eyes, and Simon felt that he was on the outside of the joke.
"Thanks, Roy," a woman muttered darkly from the other side of the room. Simon glanced at her, and a pair of amused eyes stared back, contrasting against her deliberately bored expression.
"Yeah, he definitely won't be the one to cause you the most trouble this year," Jackie said with a quick smile at Dennis. She looked to Simon to explain, "Dennis taught your class last year—"
"—and thankfully, with any luck, I won't have to educate another child again," Dennis added, wringing his hands slightly, and then adding in a low tone that Simon was sure he was not meant to hear, "not after last year anyway."
"I'm not entirely sure I know who Piers is," Ruth said, seizing another biscuit from the counter, and refilling her mug of coffee.
"The one that looks like a rat," the woman with the laughing eyes said with a faint sneer from across the room, and Stephen laughed heartily. Simon tried in vain to prevent a smile from appearing on his face, but it did no good, and even Ruth could not repress a snigger.
"Don't mind Margaret," Ruth said with a cursory glance at her colleague, "she's not exactly known for curbing her tongue."
"Even around the children," Stephen muttered, and Margaret flashed him a half smile. Simon settled back into his chair and smiled faintly around the room. This kind of warm camaraderie was not previously known to him; he had always felt like somewhat of an outsider, and he found it was nice just to relax and feel like he fit into something somewhere.
"So don't think you were getting off that easily," Margaret spoke up again. "You think that Piers is going to cause you the most trouble this year?"
Simon nodded hesitantly. "Yeah, it's just a feeling I'm getting from him."
"Anyone else caught your attention?" Stephen asked, grinning brightly, and eagerly awaiting any dirt on the children he could get. He would teach Simon's class in the following year, and any knowledge of them he could acquire now was certainly not a bad thing.
Simon hesitated, and they all sensed it. "There was just one other that stands out slightly," he said quietly. "He just seems very quiet, and more… I don't know… solitary than the rest."
He was used to being around people who gave nothing away of themselves. He had practically grown up amongst it, in some ways, and so Simon did not miss the slight reactions the other staff gave to his statement.
"Yeah, Harry can be very solitary," Jackie said quietly, and Simon looked at her sharply. He had not realised that it would have been clear which particular pupil he had been talking about, but clearly young Harry had garnered the attention of the rest of the staff for whatever reason over the past two years in which he had been at the school.
He looked about him, and tried to read the expressions on the faces of the other staff members. Margaret turned from them sharply, and stalked back to her classroom at the other end of the school. He had not been able to glean anything useful pertaining to what they knew of Harry, or why he was of such particular notice to the staff. Even Ruth, who had not recognised Piers, except by crude description, had known instantly of whom he spoke this time. He felt a vague feeling of unease sink into his stomach, and he wondered if he had been mistaken; perhaps Harry would be the one to cause him the most trouble that year after all.
Jackie patted his arm with a slight awkwardness to it, and gave him what could almost have been a sympathetic smile, though whether it was to do with not quite understanding what was going on, or whether it was to do with having to have Harry in his class was unknown to him.
"So, who do you think will be causing you the most trouble this year, Steve?" Dennis asked bravely, to which Stephen rolled his eyes and threw himself back dramatically onto the chairs behind him.
"Each and every one of them," he moaned. "I'm absolutely certain of it, Dennis!"
"Well, I can't exactly write that down to bet on, can I?"
"Alright now, class," Simon said loudly when he re-entered the classroom, allowing the children back in from their morning break. "I want you all to line up along the side of the classroom there, and I'm going to alter the seating arrangements just a little."
That morning, he had allowed the children to sit with their friends momentarily, just to help set them at ease on that first morning back after their long summer, but he wasn't going to let it stay like that forever. Dennis had kindly provided him with a quick run through of each child's general ability level before term had begun, which meant that Simon could seat the children in this manner. He intended to set the brighter children slightly more challenging work, and give the struggling children a little more attention. And if they all happened to be sitting in those groups, the less work it would make for him.
"All right then," Simon said with a bright smile, "Dudley, you're going to be sitting here. Harry, you opposite him, thank you. Hannah, I'd like you over on this table please…"
The children looked up at him expectantly when he had finished, and Simon smiled faintly. "I thought you might like to get to know some new people, so I've mixed you up a little, and now I want you to draw a mascot for your table. An animal of some kind that will represent you for the whole year. There are lots of pencils and paper on your tables, and I'll be coming around to see how you're getting on."
Harry let himself get caught up in his picture, carefully drawing the outline he remembered vaguely from memory. He didn't pay any attention to Dudley, who had unfortunately been seated next to him. He didn't think about how awful the year was going to go when it was clear that Dudley was not going to make things easy for him. He just concentrated on his picture.
"That's a lovely lion, Harry," Simon said, smiling brightly. To be truthful, he had been a little disappointed to find Harry sitting with the lowest ability group in his class. He had, of course, sat him there himself, but when he saw the truth in fact, he felt strangely deflated. It was odd, having only met the children a couple of hours ago, that he had wanted Harry to be one of the brightest students, but it was clearly not the case. It was no good to begin his first day with unreasonable favouritism however, and tried to squash all thoughts of praising Harry's lion too highly. It was a lovely picture though, and Simon couldn't help but notice how he'd added slight streaks of orange and red into a yellowy mane for shading and highlights.
"Look at my horse," Dudley demanded from the side of him, and Simon glanced down at it. It showed some effort, if nothing else.
"Please look at my horse, Mr Glass," Simon corrected mildly, and moved along. Behind him, he thought he heard Dudley telling someone off for something, but when he turned around, all he saw was Dudley fiercely colouring in his horse, and Harry trying to give his lion a shadow with a more subdued expression than before.
The bell rang through the school at three in the afternoon, and the children grinned brightly at the prospect of going home; Simon himself breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"All right then, off you go!" The class whooped and cheered, and ran through the back door of the classroom and out into the playground within moments. He did not watch them leave, but after a few moments, he got to his feet and wandered over to the door to greet the parents of his new class.
"Wonderful to meet you, Mr Glass, I'm Jane's mother, I hope the day has gone well for you…" He allowed himself to smile at the woman and to listen to her talking about the merits of her daughter for a full five minutes before another woman latched onto him with what seemed like much the same directive.
Nearly half an hour later, Simon walked through the corridors, heading towards the staffroom, and feeling ready to pull his hair out of his head. A few people were there, mostly getting their things together, and it was clear that some had already left.
"Thought you'd never make it," Jackie said to him, slipping her jacket on over her shoulders, and wrapping it more closely around her for warmth.
"I got caught by a group of mothers," Simon admitted.
"Rookie mistake!" Stephen informed him loudly, sweeping past him and reaching for his briefcase he'd left on the floor earlier that afternoon. "Rule one of teaching: never ever speak to any parents for the first week, all you'll hear is 'My Jack's so great... he's just misunderstood!' The second rule is to look like someone's really angered you the rest of the time, so that none of them dare approach you. Works like a charm!"
He grabbed his case, and swung his jacket over one shoulder and left with a hastily called 'Until tomorrow!' over the other.
Ruth gave Simon a warm smile when he left, and he left feeling a little lighter. He felt like it really was going to be okay teaching, he just hoped that he could instil some wisdom into those small heads in his classroom every day.
It was breezy outside when he got into his car, and turned the heater on. It was already chilly in early September, and the sky was threatening rain. 'No surprises there,' he thought to himself sullenly as he reversed out of the car park. The drive back home was quite short, passing along streets lined with children from the school and their parents. Glancing to the left, he glimpsed a single dark-haired boy on his own, with his shoulders hunched down. The strange feeling of unease he had experienced earlier that day was back, and he fought to squash it down and ignore it all the way home.