Arnold's world

13th November 1998 at 00:00
This month's issue of the NUT's magazine carries interviews with two young teachers who are so badly paid they can't afford a place of their own. Instead they are obliged to carry on living with their mothers. It might be rough on them - but spare a thought for their put-upon mums.

Anyone who has had to live with a teacher - as spouse or flatmate - knows what a pain they can be. They grizzle, won't get up when the alarm rings, leave their marking lying around, communicate only in grunts, pick up the most frightful slang, catch every bug going, fill their pockets with scrunched-up worksheets that inevitably find their way into the washing machine and - the biggest headache of all - what is to be done with them in the long holidays.

What the NUT apparently fails to recognise is that young teachers need the TLC only a mother can provide. To appreciate this you have only to observe typical twentysomethings on any staff who have no mum to look after them. They arrive late in the mornings, with hair that hasn't as much as seen a comb, no hankie and a low blood-sugar level because there was no one to boil them a dippy egg.

They are invariably tired, but brazenly confess they were up watching television well after the watershed. The docu-soaps broadcast at these times give them an insight into what life might be like in various other occupations, so is it any surprise that so many are tempted to take the easy way out and leave the profession?

At the small comprehensive school that I have spotlighted many, many times before in this column, the headmistress is so convinced living at home is beneficial for young teachers that she has made it her policy to appoint only applicants who promise to do so. Indeed, the mums are welcome at the interview, where they occasionally remind the candidate to sit up straight and stop mumbling. They can usually be relied upon to bring along the photograph album, first milk tooth, and other momentoes of babyhood.

It can make a difference. The recently appointed deputy responsible for curriculum development swung it against stiff opposition only when the headmistress was shown the quality of the embroidery on the booties he wore at his christening. An odd criterion for choosing someone for a top post, I admit - but, then, every teacher in every school will be able to think of appointments that seem every bit as bizarre.

Of course, not every teacher has ready access to a fully-functioning mum. For this reason, the headmistress at the much-spotlighted comprehensive intends to make the school a home-from-home and to cast herself in the role of Mum. The school has all the necessary facilities - kitchens, lavatories, showers and, in the Duke of Edinburgh store cupboard, an ample supply of full-length sleeping bags. Teachers will be able to fit in a 16-18 hour day, once they are freed from the time-wasting involved in travel, preparing meals and - what they amusingly call "getting a life".

Staff will be expected to enter into an agreement similar to that made by the elderly in residential care. In return for full-board, they must hand over their pay cheques. The headmistress will, of course, provide them with a small allowance which she promises to peg to the average for pocket money given to Year 9 pupils. So most young teachers will find themselves considerably better off.

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