10 things to know about ...staffroom etiquette

13th May 2005 at 01:00
First impressions count so tread carefully around your fellow teachers, says Anthea Davey

You've done the training, got the job and read all the school documents you were sent over the summer. You're ready to make a great impression on staff and children alike with your colour-coded lesson plans and beautiful laminates. Then, disaster strikes. You sit in the chair that Phileas Bloggs has sat in since 1926, committing a terrible faux pas. It may seem a cliche, but it still can be the quickest way to make an enemy in school .

To avoid such calamities, follow these tips.

1 OWNERSHIP

Forget the current mantra about the kids needing ownership of their classrooms, knowledge, success etc. Focus instead on the much more useful information concerning which members of staff own what. You will find that the more basic the staffroom, the more proprietorial the teachers. Seats, mugs, even newspapers may not be in common ownership. You may need to bring in your own mug, but don't bring in your favourite given to you by your granny - it will be broken or missing by Christmas.

2 BEFORE YOU START

You should get a chance to spend some time in the school before September to familiarise yourself with the department or school resources and effect a smooth handover from your predecessor. Try and spend break or lunchtime in the staffroom. The beginning of term is overwhelming, so if you've already chatted with people informally and learnt some names, it will be a lot easier come September. On the other hand, it's best not to establish yourself in a clique too early. Talk to people who have been at the school for differing periods or who teach different subjects. You're more likely to get a well-rounded perspective this way than if you attach yourself to the staffroom misery who thinks that everything went downhill in education sometime around the abolition of the quill or to the other NQTs, who are as confused as you are.

3 REFRESHMENTS

Find out the arrangements for making tea and coffee. It may seem trivial now, but when you only have five minutes to spare in the middle of the day, you will be grateful if you attend an enlightened school where refreshments are provided at break time. In other places, there will probably be a noble individual who organises a rota which you should join, even if you intend to drink only one cup a term. When you have just taught the worst class in the school, the overhead projector has broken down, you have finished your last packet of throat pastilles for the cold you are fighting off and are desperate for a cup of tea, it will be remembered that you were the non-joiner who didn't put pound;4.50 in the kitty.

4 HYGIENE

Every school I've worked in has had a kitchen sink more reminiscent of a student bedsit than one belonging to people supposedly in a position of responsibility. There will most likely be mouldy mugs that do not belong to the science department's experiments with penicillin plus plates with congealed food. People will argue about who they belong to. If there'sa dishwasher, people will argue about whose turn it is to fill it. Then they will argue about emptying it. Smile and be helpful, at least for the first term.

5 NETWORKING

Some of the most important people in school will not often be found in the staffroom. Admin staff, caretakers and cleaners can all make your life easier and the office will undoubtedly have a better selection of biscuits. Get out of the staffroom and start chatting to the people who know how the school really works.

6 A SANCTUARY

Of course, we all love children and that's why we do the job, but we do not love them so much that we want to see them every break or lunchtime. The staffroom should be a haven away from pupils, and that includes the area directly outside the staffroom. Avoid sending large numbers to drop off work as this results in continuous, irritating knocks on the door, which no one wants to answer. Arrange it so that one child comes with all the work at a specific time.

7 PUNISHMENT

Children should not be standing outside the staffroom door as a punishment. The last thing that battle-weary teachers want to have to deal with is a barrage of sullen children blocking the entrance to their refuge.

Punishment that is more annoying for staff than for pupils is the wrong punishment.

8 GIVE UP

Fewer and fewer schools have smoking rooms. Thus another traditional image from the world of teaching disappears. If you smoke, you will have to quit during the day unless there is a smoking room. This will usually be a cupboard without windows and plenty more mouldy cups - and they are the more attractive features. It is generally a good thing that people can't go off into smoking rooms as it limits the damage to their lungs and means they can't gossip in there (it's a historical fact that since Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco from the New World, the smoking room has been the epicentre of all the best gossip and plotting in any workplace). Instead they will have to share the latest scandals covertly in the staffroom and entertain the non-smokers too.

9 SOCIALISE

Teaching is a profession that demands a certain amount of dedication, but this should not mean that you remain in your classroom from morning till night. The staffroom is a vital forum for letting off steam and reminding you of the existence of an (reasonably) adult world. It is also often the best chance you'll have for finding out information informally on a child or class which may have an impact on teaching strategies you use. Whether your conversations are recreational or educational, they're vital for your well-being.

10 IT AIN'T WHAT YOU SAY...

But be careful about volume. It's best not to shout confidential information across the room (whether about a child or a colleague). I'm sure I'm not the only one to have bellowed across the room to another teacher about the "challenging behaviour" of a "difficult child" in slightly less politically correct language, only to find that said child's parent is being spoken to on the phone by another teacher, right where I'm standing. You may need to be sensitive about language and topics of conversation, depending on the nature of the staffroom. Best to save vitriol for the alternative staffroom, aka the pub.

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