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The dish called Wanda

First time in a new staffroom? Jill Parkin assembles a cast of characters you might find there

So, you're the new teacher, eh? Welcome to the menagerie. We've got the lot here, you know: the smart-arses, the psychopaths, the bored-to-tears and the backstabbers. Never a dull moment here.

The kids? Oh, them. Just like the lot at your last place, I suppose. Don't sit there - Charlene's been sitting there for 23 years. Coffee? By the way, it'll be your turn to wash up this term.

That's the bell for break. They'll be in here soon. I'll do the honours and give you the lowdown. This is what you need to know.

Charlene is the staffroom cynic. From her tapestry armchair she has seen it all. This is largely because she hasn't looked at anything else for the past 23 years, which is because no one else would give a job to such a thoroughly dull practitioner. She will probably die in her chair just before retirement, but no one will dare disturb the body.

Alfred, on the other hand, never sits down. This is because he likes to give the impression he is too busy to waste time having a breather. Alfie the ambitious will introduce himself and find out all about you. He may be dangerous if he finds you want what he wants, but the chances are he's fast-tracking and not going to hang around.

Mark will make you uneasy. He had several jobs before landing the assistant headship here, about six months before someone younger landed the deputy's job. Because of his age, his mortgage and his wife's job, Mark the malcontent is stuck and that makes him spiteful. Be prepared for a confrontation. If you cower, he'll just keep poking away. Face him and he'll back down.

Wanda is the young one and she's terribly worried, just looking for a senior shoulder to cry on and a sympathetic ear to listen to her "poor little me" act. Weepy Wanda's worked her way through most of the male shoulders and ears in the place, including the head's. But she still can't see that her best bet would be to work in her classroom until six and then have the evening off to look for unattached men of her own. Suggest it to her.

Tom will nod and listen a lot. He's very smiley for someone who seems to be left alone by everyone else. New members of staff usually feel sorry for Telltale Tom, until they find the head has heard exactly what they think about the chair of governors, if not about the head.

Nearly everyone else. Most people are quite normal. Some have ambitions and may be anxious about yours; some will avoid washing a coffee cup at all costs, some always have a bad back when there's a sports club to run, but by and large they're a good lot. Be friendly without gushing, be professional without seeming pushy, and make it clear that you're not a doormat. Friendships will develop, and after a while the deep character flaws you spotted when you first arrived will seem like charming foibles.

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