Are you sitting comfortably?

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Both haven and hazard area, the staffroom may be navigated safely with a little advice from Luke Darlington and Ally Budge

Ten minutes every morning provide the new teacher with a blissful, relaxing, invigorating and cathartic break. Yet, as ever, the new teacher must be prepared. Some simple guidelines will enhance your break time and help you avoid any social faux pas.

There is the major question of seating in the staffroom. It is not really worth asking "Does it matter where I sit?" Most staffrooms wish to present themselves as easy going, liberal and flexible. The reply will invariably be: "No, it doesn't matter." It's more acceptable, although less honest, than saying: "Actually, when it comes to seats we are all authoritarian tyrants who guard our territory with a ferocity equal to that of a tom cat."

I have heard of a staffroom which had an electric heater at one end of the room. The longest-serving member of staff sat nearest this source of warmth. The second-longest serving member was next in proximity - a pattern that continued down to the newest member, who sat farthest from the heater and nearest the door. But no seating system is ever set entirely in stone; everyone moved up a space when someone retired.

The chair beside the door is probably not the best choice, and not simply because it may be farthest from the heater. Children forget things, particularly that teachers do not like being disturbed at interval time. Official channels for complaints and concerns can be forgotten once the first pangs of malnutrition are felt - "Could you tell Mrs Smith that my biscuit is locked in the classroom." The nearer you are to the door, the nearer you are to these interruptions.

Within the body of the staff-room, new teachers have to proceed cautiously for fear that they are unseating regulars. Larger or more attractive armchairs are almost certainly reserved. As a rule, infant teachers tend to sit together, as do the men.

Few teachers shift around after the first week or two of term. This time is ideal to search out a seat you are happy with. If you are not happy, move on quickly before people start building you into their map of the room and start wondering why you have moved.

Ally Budge teaches in a Caithness primary school

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