"Superhead" by Alison Wassell
Elaine, drafted in to save the sinking ship, arrives while the school is still in darkness and the car park empty. The caretaker’s bike is propped against a fence. Having no other means of gaining access, Elaine presses the buzzer at the front entrance. She is kept waiting for several minutes before a man in paint spattered jeans and a Genesis t-shirt peers through the door’s glass panel. His eyes narrow with suspicion and hostility as he lets her in.
As she wanders around the classrooms Elaine begins to salivate in anticipation of the changes she will make. In her head she composes the introductory speech she will make at this morning’s briefing. She views the faded, torn classroom displays and the blunt chewed pencils as a challenge. She wonders if she has time to download ‘The Only Way Is Up’ from ITunes, to play before her PowerPoint presentation.
Elaine believes in herself, and she believes in education, in that order. She has turned around schools before, taking them from failing to outstanding in a matter of months. She is good at what she does and she knows it. She’s not out to win a popularity contest. As the sky lightens nervous teachers scurry to their classrooms or congregate in huddles in the staffroom. Elaine stifles a disdainful snort. Come next September she knows that most of them will be gone, having either jumped ship or been pushed. She already has a mental shortlist of bright, capable teachers that she wants on board.
Nobody offers to make her a cup of tea. The staff looks as grey and cold as the February morning.
‘Let’s start as we mean to go on,’ says Elaine. She holds up one of the blunt pencils she has gathered on her travels. There is no place in this school for a blunt pencil, she says. Sharpness is everything. Looking into the eyes of the teachers it occurs to her that, right now, if most of them had a sharp pencil they would willingly plunge it into her chest. She likes this. Fear and resentment are good. Anything else leads to complacency, and complacency leads to failure. Elaine smiles, although not at her staff. It’s going to be a good half term.
Elaine takes her first class assembly. She has the kind of voice you can’t help but hear; a voice that can fill the largest space and instil quietness in even the rowdiest children. This is a new beginning for all of them, she promises.
On the way out an infant grasps Elaine’s hand.
‘I love you, Mrs McKenna,’ says a small voice. Elaine looks down in horror. Two green candles of snot dangle from the child’s nostrils. Elaine snatches back her hand and takes flight, heading for her office, although she’s not entirely sure where it is. Elaine’s a Superhead. She doesn’t ‘do’ small children any more.