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Room 101

Recently, I was chatting to a deputy headteacher who was grumbling about how often she had to tidy the staffroom. "People are so messy," she said. But staffrooms are strange places, so for the benefit of newly qualified teachers, teaching practice students and others, here's my guide to staffroom survival.

The comfortable chair in the corner is the personal domain of Mrs Groucher. She has sat in it for 50 years and been at the school since single women chose teaching as a career and stayed in it forever. There will be a nervous intake of breath from the rest of the staff as they watch a bottom innocently approach it. Mrs G won't actually hound you out of the chair, but if she sees you, for the rest of the day you'll have uncomfortable reminders of that time you watched The Exorcist on your own.

There will be a pile of physical education equipment on the floor. This is because somebody is either getting ready for a PE lesson or has just finished one, and there won't be time for a cuppa if it's put away right now. If you fall over it, the person who put it there won't offer sympathy. They'll just be annoyed that you've got it in a muddle.

At break time, get to the staffroom quickly because there won't be enough mugs. That's why there's a note asking people not to take mugs out of the staffroom, although nobody takes the slightest notice. You'll always find at least three in the toilet, one of them growing Penicillium spores.

Older staffrooms often have a large Butler sink. By afternoon break, it will be filled with crockery, cutlery and the occasional bread roll. There will be a notice above the sink, asking people to wash their own utensils. Some staffrooms have a washing-up rota, but people will be arguing about whose turn it is, and whether Mrs Brown has still got the washing up liquid because she was using it yesterday to clean her paint pots. Fancier staffrooms have a dishwasher. Half the crockery in it will be clean and half dirty, because people forget it's their turn to empty it. Unless there's a rota. In which case they argue about it.

The coat rack in the corner will have a limp winter coat that belongs to Mrs Green. She's no longer at the school, but she phoned to say she'd forgotten the coat and would be in to collect it. That was five years ago.

The board in the corner has hooks for teachers to hang their classroom keys on so the headteacher doesn't have to play hunt the key if someone isn't in. They can't ask the premises officer because whenever you need him he'll have gone to the bank. Usually, however, there's only one rusty key on the board. Canny headteachers have a skeleton set cut and guard them with their lives.

The computer in the corner for staff use won't work. Somebody will have stuck a virus-ridden USB stick into it. If you're on teaching practice or you're a newly qualified teacher, you'll probably get the blame.

Despite all its quirks, though, the staffroom is a great indicator of a school's happiness level. You're bound to hear laughter coming out of it on a Friday afternoon, but if you hear it on a Monday, you're probably going to have a great time.

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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