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Beware the staffroom minefield

Lindsey Thomas suggests some key areas to master in the first few days.

Any staffroom can be a perilous place and as a newly qualified teacher you can be particularly vulnerable to its idiosyncrasies, but there are ways of minimising battle fatigue.

Use your induction week well, don't worry too much about the wads of paper that are thrust at you (you can read them later), make note of the really important things - that is, the way the staffroom works. The staff will be your most important resource and, though few would be prepared to admit it, teachers are a pretty conservative bunch and they will want you to "fit in". Check out the dress code. In some schools smart leggings are acceptable, in others the head still balks at the idea of women wearing trousers. If in doubt err on the side of smart.

Observe staffroom etiquette at all costs: do you need to bring your own coffee and mug? Teachers are strangely possessive about these things. Or is there a rota you can join?

Whatever you do, if you walk in and the comfiest chair is the only one available, don't sit on it. It is bound to "belong" to a deputy who has been sitting there, and there only, for the past 25 years. He is unlikely to be able to cope with the trauma of moving to another seat for the duration of the 10-minute staff meeting. Like I said, teachers are a pretty conservative bunch.

You will probably find that one member of staff will take you under hisher wing. Accept fairly gracefully, but don't feel you owe himher your undivided loyalty. Until you get to know the dynamics of the staffroom, it is wise to mix with as many people as possible.

Advice will be fired at you from all angles and arguably the most important skill is knowing when and how to ignore it without causing offence.

Advice tends to fall into three main categories. The "ignore-it-at-your-peril" advice usually starts with your head of department sitting you down in a quiet corner. This should be followed.

The "Oh-God-she's-off-again" advice usually starts with "In my 35 years of teaching. . ." You should smile politely, say, "thanks, I think I'll try that," and forget it.

The genuinely helpful advice that you will receive usually comes in response to a request from you.

Don't forget that the really important people, the ones with the real power who run the school, are rarely to be found in the staffroom.

These are not, as the uninitiated might assume, the heads and deputies, but the caretaker, the secretaries and the reprographics staff.

Get off to the right start with them and they will type your lettersprint your worksheets appear in your room, screwdriver in hand almost instantaneously.

Above all, remember that teachers inhabit a world that exists to breed little eccentricities, they all have them and, in a few years time, so will you.

Lindsey Thomas teaches at the Lea Manor High School in Luton, Bedfordshire

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