Our former head – very much a Classic FM man – paused by his car, looking bewildered. The windows of my car were visibly shaking to “You can brush my hair, undress me anywhere,” as I swiftly nipped into the bay next to him, keen to get out and explain myself.
I cheerily joked about the dangers of playing music on random shuffle, and how this terrible song must have been lying dormant on an old playlist put together by one of our children. But it was too late. The damage had been done.
Given my rush to get out and explain, it was one of the rare occasions when I drove into a school parking bay forwards, rather than reversing. To be honest, that was the worst part of the whole episode.
Are your a forward-parker? Or a reverser?
I know parking may seem a relatively minor issue right now – certainly compared with the government spending £100 billion on a high-speed railway, rather than on high-speed education, or Gavin Williamson’s absurd use of the stick on already anxious and exhausted teachers – but I do find that the way we choose to park our car reveals quite a lot about our relationship with this job.
Nor is this merely idle speculation. I have spent years watching teachers get out of their cars (nice to have a hobby), and can confidently say that those who drive forwards into the bay tend to be a very different personality from those of us who reverse in.
Cars facing forwards in the bay almost invariably belong to teachers more instinctively engaged with the place and the job. They happily thrust forwards into that space because they have a deeper and closer relationship with teaching than those of us who are already mindful about ensuring an easier exit later in the day.
Our teaching selves and our other selves
It’s not that the forwards-parking colleagues work any harder or longer than we do. It’s more that they make less of a distinction between their teaching selves and their other selves.
They slip more naturally into the role, more naturally into that parking space. They are the ones who will also be more likely to use their school email address for all their other emails, too, whereas we reversers will instinctively feel the need to have two entirely separate systems.
We reversers simply have a different feeling about the job. Inside our heads, we are never as fully present as those who drive in forwards. We may have been teachers for many years, but there is still a sense of distance – still a sense of it all being a performance, rather than a natural expression of ourselves.
It might, in some cases, be an entirely brilliant performance, but an act is what it will always be. It doesn’t make us better or worse teachers than our counterparts – just different.
Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire