Life lessons: The cult of the glamorous younger teacher

How do you work alongside the one teacher who always attracts more attention than others? Tes' maven of manners offers advice
15th November 2020, 12:00pm


Life lessons: The cult of the glamorous younger teacher
Life Lessons: Elderly Gentleman, Sitting In Leather Armchair & Smoking Cigar

Dear Thomas, 

Everywhere you go in my school, there's just one thing the pupils are talking about: Mr…., the art teacher

This youngish man has a glamorous air, I suppose. Apparently, he's a good teacher. 

But I'm not so sure about this cult of celebrity. There's a rumour that he's going to be a contestant on a TV talent show. So where will it all end? 

On the other hand, maybe I'm just a jealous older teacher who's had his day. Do you think somebody should have a word with this person? 

Sam Cosgrove

The cult of the glamorous teacher

Dear Sam, 

What is it about art teachers? Does anyone remember Mr Teddy Lloyd, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the dashing war veteran with only one arm, whose love intrigue with Miss Brodie has her pupils unsuitably agog? 

In the 1930s, teachers such as Miss Brodie, with her gigantically off-piste notion of the curriculum, and her deliberate cultivation of herself as an object of worship, really did exist. Perhaps, in more shadowy form, they're still about today. 

You have to ask: what is education? As far as Miss Brodie was concerned, the main topic was herself: her visits to Italy to look at art, her romances, her politics. Her pupils were enthralled, not least by the glitter of the illicit, the inherent danger. Miss Brodie reached too high. She suffered the inevitable downfall. 

We've all known fellow teachers like this, in a lesser way - or perhaps not a lesser way. There's always something overwhelming about this kind of "success". Maybe we've hoped for it ourselves. 

Consulting pupils about your love life

I remember a colleague whose star quality seemed to rage around the corridors. She left and came back sometime later for an afternoon visit. The girls were delirious. I don't use the word lightly. They were out of their minds, they really were. 

It turned out that this teacher had a line-up of men and consulted her classes as to which to choose. So she was Miss Brodie's successor up to a point. I suppose you could just about make out that this kind of thing was legitimate discussion in an English lesson, especially if you apply the principle that anything is legitimate discussion in an English lesson. Or you say you're trying to bring Pride and Prejudice alive. 

It's only human to succumb to the allure of the forbidden. Pupils in a school are no exception. The private lives of teachers are a source of unlimited fascination and possibilities for lurid invention. I used to give a lift to a married colleague who happened to live on my route to school. So, of course, we were about to elope. Even after many years of dreary routine lift-giving, elopement was still on the cards. 

Teachers who attract more attention than others

In any school, there will always be teachers who attract more attention than others, even if they don't intend it. It may just be that they're new, or young, or good-looking, or wear a lot of fascinating clothes. 

Vanity is such that few of us fail to be flattered or to play up to it. But it doesn't last. As with the theatrical profession, of which teaching is a branch, perhaps we all have our brief glory period, before fading with age and familiarity. 

Does it matter, and should anything be done about it? Probably not. Unless things get seriously out of hand or the teacher is behaving "inappropriately" (I don't like that word) in a quantifiable way, any intervention is likely to look like sour grapes or to make things worse. 

As an older teacher who is past all that, you can console yourself that you don't stand up in the classroom day after day just to court popularity. Far from it. 

I would trust also to the good sense of the young people, who will grow out of all this sooner or later, and may well already have done so. 

I remember at the age of 10 being very unimpressed by a teacher who sought to ingratiate himself at my school by telling dirty stories. I wasn't very impressed by the other boys, either, who were taken in by him. That makes me sound very smug, I'm afraid. But it's just too bad. 

What do you do if you're blanked by a colleague?

What to do about being blanked in the corridor? Schools these days are supposed to be "families". In prospectuses or morale-boosting communications from the head, the lovely idea is promoted at every opportunity. 

Why then do members of these "families" regularly ignore each other when they pass in the hallways? Is this what happens at home? 

Once, I was first into the staffroom after the Christmas holidays. There was nobody else in the room but the head, who carried on as if I wasn't there. Mind you, this head never acknowledged you in any chance encounter, of which there are inevitably many in the course of the school day. You might as well have been an under-housemaid in a Victorian stately home: just not there. Or, if a member of the family, one who is drastically out of favour: on the verge of expulsion. 

I know teachers tend to be preoccupied with their own problems. In many ways, we're lone workers, with all the attendant insecurity that brings. 

It's just a little thing, and maybe I'm being too sensitive, but please spare a smile or at least a flash of recognition for a colleague when you bump into them around the school. 

Thomas Blaikie was a secondary English teacher for 25 years. He is author of Blaikie's Guide to Modern Manners (4th Estate)

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