Most mornings in our staffroom there is a little ritual which I have grown to loathe. It involves little pieces of paper no bigger than bus tickets. These harmless looking slips have the power to completely ruin my day, because written on each one is information about any substitution class that I will be expected to cover. On a bad day I could end up with as many as three of these loathsome notes; this means three extra hours of work that I hadn't been expecting and won't be getting payed for.
Unfortunately it is difficult to avoid developing a negative attitude towards the person bringing the bad news. Last year it was the same teacher all the time who gave out the substitution slips, and I developed a Pavlovian response of inwardly groaning every time she approached me. This task is no longer her responsibility, but the response is so hard-wired inside my mind that I still automatically worry if she walks near my desk. This year the Thai teachers take turns with this task so anybody approaching my desk in the morning raises my suspicion.
I don't begrudge covering classes for sick colleagues. I don't even mind covering when people just fancy taking self-awarded bonus holidays - I occasionally wish that I had the courage to do this. Sometimes , though, it is just difficult to not feel disappointed when you come to work expecting to finish at noon but need to stay till four. There aren't many perks working in a Thai school, so the occasional early finish is always appreciated.
At the moment we are in the middle of the cold and flu season; swine flu mania is also in the air. Many teachers are unable to make it to work so the substitutions will likely become even more and more frequent over the coming weeks. It is tempting to just go hide in the toilet until the lady with the substitution slips has finished her rounds.