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Go on now go, walk out the door

I went into school to do some work this Sunday and the phone rang. It was a parent who wanted to check the date for something and who didn't seem at all surprised that I was there. I'm sure the children think I live at school; after all, I'm welcoming them as they arrive in the morning and am trying to put them on the right buses when they leave. But I thought parents might have an idea that we teachers have lives outside school.

It's always odd, seeing children at the local shops or park; they stare at you as if you shouldn't be there, and I can understand why so many teachers live outside their catchment areas (it's not just so they don't have to come in on a "snow day"). And it can certainly make you feel uncomfortable if parents catch you bellowing "I Will Survive" at the karaoke bar or crying on your friend's shoulder in the changing rooms at Dorothy Perkins.

At one time, of course, female teachers weren't expected to have lives outside school, and they certainly weren't supposed to have sex lives.

Until the middle of the last century most left the profession when they married and single girls just didn't do it in those days... The village school teacher was the pillar of society, and it was important to maintain his or her reputation - in and out of school hours.

You never really stop being a teacher, but it is important for our sanity to have a life outside work. My trick is only to do school work at school - hence coming in on a Sunday - and leaving home for home. There's nothing more disheartening than bringing home that Sainsbury's "bag for life" full of files and books at the weekend and have it reproach you every time you pass it in the hall; or having your dining table out of action because you've spread out your schemes of work in an attempt to find out what term it is (if it's poetry, it must be spring 06).

However, if I'm staggering about in Tesco's with hair like a "busted couch"

-as they say in Newcastle - I'm almost bound to come across a parent or governor and feel obliged to straighten up and look vaguely human. Human, after all, is what teachers are, with lives and loves, aches and pains, families and friends. And weekends. So next time the phone goes when I'm at school on my day off, I'll pretend I'm an automated answering machine.

"Press one to complain that your child's sweatshirt has gone missing, two to offer to sell raffle tickets for the PTA, and press the hash key twice if you've just remembered it's the weekend and the office won't be manned."

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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