And did you hear about . . .?

4th September 1998 at 01:00
It's good to gossip, says Bob Aston - it's one of the few remaining forms of creativity

Facing your class for the first time is nerve-racking, particularly for a new teacher, but few established teachers remember the trepidation of those first tentative steps into the complex social network of the average staffroom. Their embarrassment can lead to social gaffes or, worse still, avoiding the staffroom altogether.

One teacher told me he could get much more work done if he never went near the staffroom. He thought staffroom gossip a sinful waste of time, so much useless chat about knitting and children. This is a mistake. Gossip, particularly in predominately female primary school staffrooms, is almost an entry fee for social acceptance, and social acceptance oils the wheels of teamwork.

Whereas girls in the playground groom each other's hair, the grooming ritual in the staffroom takes the form of verbal titbits. Male teachers usually exclude themselves with sarcastic comments and a hasty retreat. Again this is a mistake. Give an executive a pinstripe suit, a glass to go in his hand in the wine bar and the despised gossiping is now the respectable networking. Many discussions started in a staff meeting are deliberately left unresolved until a solution is chewed out at lunch-time. Missing out can mean being left out.

A relatively new source of gossip is the e-mail chat room set up by Becta for the "Portables in Schools" computer group. There was a rebellion when the co-ordinator closed the line for the summer break but he was persuaded to change his mind. Apart from a few serious-minded people who sought solutions to computer problems, most of the others have sat up until the early hours of the morning chatting about everything from dado rails to cross-dressing.

since the participants have to pay, this gossip obviously serves a purpose. Perhaps, like most gossip, it is a form of cheap therapy, a chance to let off steam with the added advantage of anonymity. As we now have such a tightly-planned, closely assessed curriculum, gossip will soon be the only form of spontaneous creativity open to teachers. All new teachers should be warmly encouraged to participate. And, by the way, did you hear why old so-and-so got that promotion? Well......

Bob Aston is head of a primary school in Kent

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