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Talking shop

Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you.

Q I'm unhappy with the way my classroom is being cleaned. My table is often dusty, and the floors aren't properly swept. I often see the cleaner, because she comes in while I'm working after school. She likes to chat, and I think that might be part of the problem. Should I tackle her about it?

A Tricky one this. What you mustn't do is jump in and tear a strip off the cleaner. You're not her line manager and it's not a battle you're ever going to win. Stop and think instead.

Maybe chattiness is the problem, but there are other explanations. Perhaps you leave your room untidy so that your cleaner can't get it up to standard in the limited time the schedule allows. It may not be a personal failing on your part - you might teach in a more creatively messy way than others do, with paint, glue, flour and water. If that's so, you have two options - you can either work harder at cleaning up, or you can ask for more cleaning time to be allocated to your room.

On the other hand, maybe you're right and it is the chatting that's the trouble. Talking instead of getting on with the job is a human failing that's not confined to cleaners. And in any case it takes two to make a conversation. I know you want to be polite to the cleaner, but it's enough to say a cheerful good evening and then pointedly get your head down in your work. If that doesn't do the trick, then leave the room and let her get on with it.

If, after all that, there's still a problem, then take it up with senior management. Be ready to quote chapter and verse about what exactly wasn't done on which dates. Many heads are reluctant to take on the cleaning team - badly paid, expected to do wonders in a short time - and they'll want hard facts before they attempt it.

Q We have a new deputy. She's good, but she keeps referring to how things were done in the school she came from. "At my last school we kept our records like this..." It's irritating, and it's getting in the way of what she wants to do. Can we get her to stop?

A People who leave excellent schools for promotion are inevitably influenced by what they've learned. However, I'm surprised that a senior teacher lets he recent experience show so openly, because it's so obviously wrong in management terms.

So, she needs to be told. You might have a quiet word with the the head, but that needs care, and depends on the nature of relationships in your school - you have to make the judgement.

Or, if she does it in meetings when the head's there, try shutting up and letting her go on a bit. With luck the head will pick it up and have a word with her. If that doesn't work, one of you - an elder statesperson, well liked - will have to speak to her. If she's the good person she surely is, she'll instantly see what she's doing and be grateful for having it pointed out.

Q I'm not a teacher, but I am married to one, and I reckon all teachers should read this problem of mine. It's simply that he and our friends - most of them teacher couples - can't leave the job alone. They come round for dinner and it's school, school, school all evening. We go out for a meal in a group and it's OFSTED, national curriculum, SATs and what the deputy head said in assembly. Sometimes, heaven help us, it's individual kids. "Darren Lump did a super piece of pottery todayI" I knew I'd had enough when we went to a fancy dress party and I found my husband, dressed as Batman, discussing Individual Education Plans with Charlie Chaplin. How can I make it stop?

A Tell me about it! Imagine what it's like to be sitting at the next table. First, don't try to get the message across on the evening itself, with sighs, and half-joking comments. Sit down, privately, with your partner and ask for more consideration. You're entitled to it, and he should be capable of taking the point. Then the next time Darren's pottery comes up over the dinner table, see if he deliberately shows his concern by neatly changing the subject. If it happens, smile at him and support the new topic.

In the longer term, work on developing new friendships, based on things you can do together, with people from a range of backgrounds - salsa dancing, a choir, keeping footpaths open, steam engines, drama - there's lots of stuff out there. You'll be astonished at how much you enjoy being with a group that's not bound together by a job. It'll do you both no end of good mentally and emotionally.

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