After much discussion, I say it's good to talk

25th March 2011 at 00:00

Do teachers ever stop talking? Probably not - even when they are alone, or asleep. "My mum's a teacher and she still gives orders to an empty room when she is ironing," one of my pupils told me.

We all become teachers for noble reasons, such as changing the world. Then we discover the real fun of the job. You can tell other people to be quiet but you never have to stop talking yourself. You can keep talking for the rest of your life.

Do we ever stop talking about teaching? You know how it is with a group of friends in the pub. If some are teachers and others are not, it won't be long before the teachers start talking about school. Suddenly, one will shout "No! We're talking about work again!" and they will try to stop, but it won't last. They can't help themselves.

This is because teaching is fascinating, and can touch on every aspect of human life. It is hard to stop "talking about work" when you are a teacher, because you are actually talking about life. In a bookshop last weekend, I overheard two teachers talking about a trip to see War Horse. Their fervent whisperings covered everything from trench warfare to which teachers didn't cry at the end.

Few jobs give you more laughs, too. I knew two English teachers who would sit in a corner of the staffroom crying with laughter over the grammatical mistakes on a video box.

Talking to teachers from other schools can be liberating. We often find it easier to talk to strangers and if they are teachers, too, the conversation takes off. Moaning is more unbuttoned - whether paired, group or plenary. You don't have to be perky or edit yourself in case your head of department is listening. There is no need for long explanations, either. "Bottom set, Romeo and Juliet, after wet break". Nuff said.

It is good to hear about a different school from your own. You get a break from the idea that "We've always done it like that here". Schools are intense worlds that often forget there is another way of doing things. The grass may be greener on the other side - or it may just be a refreshingly different green. "There is a world elsewhere," as Coriolanus says.

At a recent conference of the National Association for the Teaching of English I met a young teacher who told me: "I feel guilty if I let my class read for more than five minutes without giving them an activity." "I don't," said a third teacher who joined us. "No matter what, they get a lesson a week to enjoy reading."

The younger teacher's face lit up. You could see her guilt beginning to melt away.

I watched the teachers pour out of the lecture theatre. Many had paid their own way; some travelled from the States and Singapore. All of them were talking. Whatever else teachers may be, they are explorers. Getting away from your own patch and talking to others who do this endlessly fascinating job can make you see it afresh. As TS Eliot puts it in Little Gidding: "We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time."

Catherine Paver is a writer and part-time English teacher.

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