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My colleagues have come to know a lot about me. Should I have created more distance? How close is too close?

I have a new colleague in my department. I quickly realised that this was no ordinary colleague. Stress does not seem to affect her. She does not drink coffee, and is the same pleasant, humorous person at 7.30am at the photocopier as she is at 5.30pm as we're going home. The kids love her. Her lessons are polished, focused and full of incidental information and knowledge about the English language that I don't know and wish I did. She reads widely. She has travelled widely. I spend most of my time trying to nick worksheets off her desk. I worship her. I hate her. I am fascinated by her.

Before you get the impression that I am in the grip of an unrequited love affair, I need to make one further point. I know nothing about this woman. I don't know where she lives, if she has a partner, if she has a family, what her friends are like, or if she has any unmentionable vices. And therein lies the problem. I am desperate to know more. My mind has created a superteacher instead of a human being who longs for Friday just like the rest of us. My colleague may be an angel, or a secret devil-worshipper, but she has something valuable. She has a professional persona.

I want you to picture my staffroom at a typical lunchtime. It looks like any other staffroom with the obligatory fridge and toaster. It also has me in the corner, deep in discussion with whichever poor soul will listen to the intricacies of my recent visit to the gynaecologist. We can then move on to any one of a range of topics from bowel complaints, to sexual hang-ups, to how far will you go, and how long should you go on for. We stop in between at where the best place is to go and why exactly you should go there. You get the kind of thing. My closest colleagues have come to know a lot about me. Was this wise? Should I have created more professional distance? Just because they might know about my hopeless inadequacies in some areas of my life, will that stop them from trusting me in others? How close is too close?

I've only learnt about mystique quite late in life. I love chatting - well, it's probably more accurate to call it gossiping, and I've never been very secretive. It's always seemed too much of a hassle to create some image of your life that bears no relation to reality. One of my best friends recently broke up with her boyfriend. "We were having problems for a while," she told me. I was amazed. She'd never mentioned it to me. On the surface, they were Mr and Mrs Perfect. I slavishly copied everything they did. I believed the hype.

Perhaps I should try to give that impression about my relationship instead of broadcasting the news loudly whenever my boyfriend and I have a row. There might be an air of superficiality about mystique, but it definitely helps when people are forming impressions. How professional is it when you walk into a meeting knowing that half the people there know your knickers were dyed bright green in the wash at the weekend? I may have taken intimacy a little too far.

I'm not suggesting for one second that my new super-colleague is consciously cultivating this air of separation. I'm just a total nosy parker, desperate to know more, and convinced that her lessons contain the Holy Grail of teaching success, if only I could find out more about them. Silence maddens me. But it's occurred to me that some people actually want to get down to the job in hand rather than spend all their free periods loudly discussing every detail of their morning vitamin regime.

I hate teachers who get too personal with kids, but I might be in danger of getting too personal with my colleagues. There's only so many responsibility points you can give to someone who keeps a graph stuck to her fridge that shows how quickly her potted amaryllis is growing. (Old habits die hard. We did it in primary school and I had no idea that you could grow plants without drawing a corresponding graph.) From now on, my bad habits are staying locked away in the closet, and my free periods will be spent frantically marking and reading educational literature. Or at least I'll try to give that impression.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary schoolEmail: gemmawarren@freenet.co.uk

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