Imitating God...and other ways teachers break the rules

From drinking gin in the staffroom to losing the school minibus - teacher misdemeanours that they somehow got away with

Emma Kell

How teachers have broken the rules – and got away with it

I have a fabulous colleague with a wicked sense of humour, who took to dismantling the (admittedly rather creepy) mannequins used to model school uniforms and leaving dismembered limbs on roofs and on desks for timely discoveries and resultant shrieks.

Another colleague’s snazzy science experiment memorably set the fire alarm off during the school’s open evening, resulting in an unprecedented fire drill for about 2,000 people. 

Thanks to sheer bafflement in the first instance and humorous acceptance in the second, neither faced any consequence, but they added to the fabric of school history in ways that will be remembered for years to come.

Inspired by my previous article about the tellings-off that teachers receive at school, I asked teachers to tell me about things that they could or should have been in trouble for – but managed to get away with. 

The responses may go some way towards proving the rule that teachers love working with children because, essentially, we are all still children at heart.

The things that teachers got away with...

Compliance with rules and protocols

  • "I did the same observed maths lesson three years in a row to three different members of the senior leadership team. 'Outstanding' each time."
  • "I trained in a lovely Catholic primary. A very stern headteacher was showing around a priest. There was a rule about not carrying tea around the school. I was bringing back cups from the class (not mine!) and she grilled me. I lied and said they were from a science experiment. Needless to say, the priest saw straight through me, and smirked behind her back."
  • "Not bringing in the literacy and numeracy hour. They came and went before I was found out."
  • "Birmingham urban legend alleges that a teacher was fed up of learning walks. So he stuffed two Alka-Seltzers in his mouth, fell to the floor and began foaming at the mouth. After calling the ambulance, they decided never to drop in on him again."

Meticulous attention to detail 

  • "Took the wrong kid on a school trip. We had two – let’s call them Joe Bloggs – in one year group. Trip leader called in sick part-way through the day. I collected the kids. Put them on a minibus and off we went. Get to the university and Joe Bloggs asked what he was doing there. I showed him the medical form and reply slip. He laughed so hard, but I couldn’t understand what was going on. He then thanked me for getting him out of maths: he was the wrong Joe Bloggs."
  • "Missed the Ofsted email when part-time. Came dressed as a giant Lego man, to teach Year 11 English. Ofsted, of course, came to see me. Low point."
  • "My head of department collected cash for a theatre trip in a binbag. I binned the bag – with hundreds of pounds in it – in the skip. Head of department dived into skip head-first the next day, and, miraculously, found it."
  • "Had a brand new carpet in the office. In I walk, shaking a bottle of Tippex. Got excited seeing said carpet, dropped the bottle and spilled the Tippex all over it…right in front of a fuming headteacher. Both stood staring at the white liquid. The stain is still there, 20 years later."
  • "Instead of ordering 100 folders, I ordered 100 BOXES of 10 lever-arch files. I was accused of building Trump’s wall in the staffroom, but otherwise no harm was done. Anybody need any folders?"

Mature role models 

  • "Made a loudhailer from a piece of cardboard and, from my top floor window, pretended to be God. "Nathan! I am THE LORD. Stop picking your nose.'"
  • "Serving gin in a teapot during morning break to the department during day two of a brutal Ofsted inspection. Settled everyone’s nerves. We all had a giggle, and Ofsted admired our rapport."
  • "I once kicked a photocopier when it broke down, seconds before an observation. The repairman was devastated at the damage. He said, “Who would do such a thing?” I said I didn't know what possessed people, and made him a tea."
  • "I used to cycle to school, but after a heavy staff do I decided to get on the school bus. Was waiting at bus stop when headteacher drove past. He stopped and offered me a lift. I accepted, and it became clear that I wasn’t very well. I told him it was food poisoning, and he took my first class."

See through any threats

  • "I used to tell any recalcitrant student, 'If you don’t shut up right now, I’m going to fold you up, put you in a box, and post you to my brother in Australia.'”
  • "A classroom ground rule: any sentence beginning with 'basically' will result in immediate defenestration." 
  • "When I was teaching in a special school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, one student climbed out of the window and exposed himself. I told him if he didn’t put it away quickly, one of those seagulls above would think it was a worm. It was an unconventional approach, but it worked."

Young people are not your allies

  • "One teacher, who is not proud of this, lost it one day with a student who was being particularly malicious and unkind, and called him a 'twat'. The incident was investigated. The student witnesses all rallied around the teacher and swore blind that she'd said 'twit'."
  • "A colleague and I lost the minibus once. Completely forgot where we’d parked it. Thankfully, like an idiot, I’d left my mobile in it and so we were able to log in to a student’s phone and use the Find My iPhone app to locate the bus. One of the kids said, 'You two are like my nan when she loses her fags.'"

Underlying all these stories is a timely reminder that we are, as a former boss used to remind us, “organic beings working with other organic beings”. If we treat one another with humanity, humour and humility, this job can really be a joy.

Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching

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