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Fancy that

Not many teachers faint at school and even fewer pretend to do so. But then there's Ms Willow. By all accounts, our former colleague from the music department continues to play the instrument of life in her own key. Reports have reached us of a theatrical keeling over in the bus bay at her latest school.

Not even the most gullible Year 7 was remotely fooled. Nor, apparently, was Mr Bratwurst, the technology teacher nearby, who simply told her to get up. Everyone witnessing the Willow descent knew that it was just another of her characteristically off-the-wall ruses to get close to Mr Bratwurst, the latest hulking object of her desire.

Her identity has been changed here, but we all surely know the odd Ms or Mr Willow. They are often the most talented of teachers but they appear to make no distinction between the narrative running inside their heads and the real world going on outside it.

We may like to distance ourselves from such people but the honest truth is that many of us love our little fantasies. We have just as many whimsies cavorting merrily inside our own heads; we are simply a little more discreet about how they are manifested.

Sharing some of this innermost nonsense with our colleagues adds levity to the working day. The whole point is that these shared fancies and imaginings bear no relation to anything real. For instance, it is for no other reason than idle whim that I habitually murmur threats of severe physical violence whenever my dear colleague Mr Turner and I pass each other in the corridor.

Mr Turner is a man of considerable physical stature and power and we both know that he could snap me in two without looking up from his marking. But he always knows to back away meekly. It's what we do. Similarly, two colleagues on playground duty have taken to playing intelligence agents "not meeting" in a park. They briefly cross, speak sparingly in code and never glance at each other.

Meanwhile, we all know teachers who have come up with some inoffensive but monstrous invention about a colleague and then sold the myth to students. Which one of us, for instance, hasn't found ourselves forced to deny being the drummer who left Oasis before they became famous? Or a practising druid? Or that we were a losing finalist in the 1992 world break-dancing championships?

We may never know about our (perhaps unflattering) roles in other colleagues' private imaginings. What I am sure of is that all this goes on elsewhere in the educational world, even at the highest levels: sometimes, just like Ms Willow's bid for attention in the bus bay, we see a delusion get out of control in the Department for Education. Then it becomes national education policy.

But, for the most part, it's still just innocent fun. AQA, for instance, used to include the names of various former Spurs footballers in their business studies exam each year. I saw nothing wrong with that. It plainly helped to motivate the writers. Such frivolity may not sound very professional but it helps us all to do a more professional job.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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