Schoolchildren eating hot school lunches made ...

Schoolchildren eating hot school lunches made up primarily of food from the surplus commodities program. Taken at a school in Penasco, New Mexico, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The gleaming gold and metal badge on the outside of my school jumper said “PREFECT”. It was my first taste of responsibility.

My duties were legion and included such things as enforcing the “no running” rule in the corridors, making sure people went the right direction on the stairs, lining up the first years for assembly.

Heady stuff for someone who was only just a teenager. Even though we used to mock prefects behind our hands, I instantly thought respect came with the badge.

Rank was not without its privileges. One of them was the ability to get into lunch early. This was not to be sniffed at. The quality of the school meals degraded significantly the longer time went on and all the popular choices quickly disappear. It was during one of these lunch hours when I met my downfall.

I sat down for dinner with my school friends as usual. It was towards the end of term before the long Summer break and we all felt demob happy. We happily joked and told funny stories until our sides ached.

Unbeknownst to us, over at the next table, there were a bunch of first years. They were also feeling demob happy. However, instead of telling jokes and reminiscing like us, they chose to have a water fight. And after that a food fight.

A passing dinner lady spotted the two tables and came to the incorrect conclusion that the cause of our table’s mirth was the tomfoolery of the first years. She summoned a teacher and told him. Next thing we were in the headmaster’s office looking sheepishly at our shoes. I tried to defend us by protesting our innocence. It was no use. Detentions all round and as we filed out of the office feeling hard done by, the headmaster called me back.

“Badge please”

With a tear in my eye, I handed it over. It was all so unjust, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was a good job the dinner lady didn’t think I’d murdered someone.

It taught me a valuable lesson. Whenever you accept a new role, particularly one with some degree of responsibility, you need to look beyond the tasks and think about what’s really expected of you. If it’s not clear then ask. Then make sure you live up to that expectation. And avoid dinner ladies and first years like the plague!