Mugs and good manners

Both haven and hazard area, the staffroom may be navigated safely with a little advice from Luke Darlington and Ally Budge

If you want to discover a little about the staff in your school you should look at their coffee mugs. Interesting clues about their interests, hobbies and obsessions, and not least whether they have a sense of humour, are readily available.

Although the staffroom is supposed to be a place of relaxation, it never seems big enough. It is used by many people besides teachers. There are those who work in the school office, for example, general assistants and other helpers. Visitors such as the school nurse, the educational psychologist and school governors may also be present, and sometimes students.

Some staffrooms are multi-functional. They have to be because they were built with different needs in mind and are unsuited to the practical realities of a modern educational working (and resting) environment. They may also function as the secretary's office, photocopying room, a resources base, medical room and a dumping ground for all kinds of things, personal and otherwise, ranging from lost property to white elephant stall bric-a-brac, from goods left by agents to bumph issued by the Office for Standards in Education and the Department for Education and Employment.

The days are supposed to be gone when a Colonel Blimp selfishly reserved a chair solely for himself, barking at anyone who dared to use it, but you will certainly have met people with character or apparent lack of it. Don't make hasty judgments. Still waters run deep and there will be much historical background. There is also a saying about empty vessels. You may be surprised how your opinion changes even during your first term. The dynamics of the staffroom take a long time to unravel.

Your headteacher hopefully respects the room as a place where the staff can rest and let off steam occasionally. But you may discover that they like to sit there and enjoy your company from time to time. There is no need to feel awkward. Be natural. It does, however, raise the question of how to address the head and senior members of staff in social situations. Although they may often call you by your first name the reverse may be difficult. Perhaps it would be best to consult your mentor.

While letting off steam is healthy, the staffroom may not be the place to do it too often. You don't want to be known as a grumbler. Try not to align yourself with the doom merchants. Try to be-come known as a willing, cheerful person with a ready smile.

Staffroom conversation, particularly the humour, is often anecdotal and great fun but sometimes you may feel that topics are so frequently aired you tire of hearing them - medical ailments, for example. There is no obligation to stay in the room. Go elsewhere, even though alternatives such as your classroom may not be much better. But you are entitled to a reasonable break at lunchtime and should be free to leave the premises on most days. Don't miss out too often, though. Ideas are often floated and you could disadvantage yourself and seem aloof.

So now you are left with a major decision, if you haven't already given the game away. What mug will you buy?

Luke Darlington is a recently retired headteacher

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