Schools are miraculous when you think about it. All those people coexisting and learning and teaching in the same place. It's inevitable that there will be conflict from time to time. But in my department, that conflict happens every single day.
Some context: I teach in what is referred to as a "challenging school" in London. We have high staff turnover, low morale and a cohort of kids who like to "challenge" their teachers constantly. It is stressful. But rather than a port in the storm, our department office is a tsunami of additional drama. In fact, an hour with 30 rowdy 14-year-olds is hugely preferable to 20 minutes in the awkward cave that passes for our "staff base".
People stop talking when you walk in because they have just been gossiping about you, as I know from having been there when someone else walks in. The printer is in there, sadly, or I'd hide out in my classroom permanently. The same printer is called into service as a weapon: the room is decorated with diktats such as "Do your washing up!", "Collect your printing!" or "Sign up to the department dinner!" (God, no.)
The only time we are all together - I will never go to a department dinner - is in our frustrating twice-weekly meetings. We argue about behaviour, with half the room implying that the other half doesn't know how to control a class. We argue about the best way to teach similes; so-and-so has taught it her way for 15 years and is convinced that everyone else should follow suit. We once had a 20-minute row about whose turn it was to organise the cupboard. It's a bit like a group therapy session (we are all suffering from the same problem) but there's no kindly psychologist to mediate - just an angry head of department.
It really does keep me awake at night. I stare at the ceiling, retreading our uneasy exchanges or mentally rewriting the cover letter I will send to countless schools in the hope of escape. But it's not all bad - at least it makes my 14-year-olds bearable.
The writer is a teacher in London, England
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