Gemma Warren needs a bit of help

My non-teaching boyfriend, A, calls me in the middle of the day. At least, he calls me in the morning, but I'm teaching. I don't see the message because it's buried under the rest of the rubbish that accumulates in my pigeon-hole.

He calls back but I can't speak because he's called in the middle of our staff briefing. I then try to call him at lunchtime, but someone else is using the staffroom phone. I try again, but just as I get through, a member of my form knocks on the door and wants to borrow pound;1 because she's left her lunch money at home. Then the bell rings. Then I take my register, and sprint off to my next lesson. Two lessons later I phone him. "Why haven't you called me back?" he asks.

Can someone please explain to me how they manage to juggle a relationship with a career in teaching? I mean, I know that other professions are busy. I know that other people get stressed, but come on. At least they have a phone on their desk. I don't get a phone until I get promoted several points up the responsibility scale. At the moment I'm still the pedagogical version of Jack at the bottom of a very large beanstalk. What if he won't wait that long?

So A wants to know if I'm free to meet him after work. He works in central London. I work in Edmonton. It's a fair distance. He wants to know why I can't meet him when I finish work at 3.30pm. I try not to be sarcastic.

He says that it would be really nice to spend time together. I tell him that I want to spend time together, there is nothing more in the whole wide world that I want to do more than spend time together, and I wish that I could click my fingers and have my departmental meeting and 60 exercise books disappear. But unfortunately, that's not possible.

Well, actually, I don't say that because I'm still trying to play hard to get, but that's what I'm thinking. A gets a call and has to go. I phone a parent to discuss whether her child has mastered the art of plurals, and then I go into the toilet and cry because A thinks I don't want to spend time with him. One of my colleagues brings me a bar of chocolate. We ponder the possibilities. "Has he onsidered a career change?" she asks.

It's the age-old problem. I don't mean men are from Mars, women are from Venus. I mean, why does everyone think that teachers just roll out of bed, roll into a lesson, and get all their marking and preparation done by magic? It's like imagining a play is put on with no rehearsals and no backstage crew. I wish I was experienced enough to learn the art of improvisation. It's difficult trying to be an intellectual sparring partner, a cordon bleu chef and a sex goddess, and still be in bed by 9.30. Behind every cushion on my sofa is a pile of marking that I'm trying to pretend doesn't exist.

By the time A gets to work in the morning, I've already talked to parents, spoken to children, taken a registration, met with my colleagues, planned some lessons, cued up a video, read his horoscope, my horoscope, and got a member of my form to work out how many per cent he loves me by using the initials of our names. I've marked some books, had two cups of coffee, and I've taken a lesson. I talk to one of my colleagues. "Do you ever feel as if you're trying to be all things to all people, and that you're constantly rushing, trying everything, and doing nothing well?" "Yes," she answers simply.

As it seems that I'll be living a balancing act for a little while longer, I'm trying to give A practical examples of what it's like to be a teacher. "You know what would really, really turn me on?" I asked him last weekend. He looked interested. I pointed to a pile of books on the floor. "If you could just look over my Year 13 essays for me." It wasn't what he was expecting, but he agreed and I took advantage of my hour of freedom to arrange myself in my new nightie that took my entire responsibility point to buy, and jumped into bed with Cosmo.

Three hours later, I found him asleep on the sofa. The marking was done. I tried to wake him up. "Go away," he said. "I'm exhausted." I think he might be getting the message.

* Alan Cole offers to take A out to dinner. See Talkback, page 33.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, north London. E-mail:

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