Beginner's guide to sucking up

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Sycophancy is the key to success, says staffroom cynic Neil DeMarco.

Advising newly qualified teachers on dealing with staff in their first year is a difficult undertaking but there is one rule which underpins all others: sycophancy is the name of the game.

Always suck up to senior management and never offer criticism when invited to "speak freely". Should a headteacher or deputy ask you how you're settling in, then "things couldn't be better" - even if teaching in his school runs a close second to dangling from a high bridge with only a couple metres of piano wire wrapped round your throat for support.

If the Year 9 Class from Hell has been testing the aerodynamic properties of classroom furniture in your lessons, then tell him it was a cross-curricular physics experiment.

Be nice to the school secretary. School secretaries, it seems, have all been on the same training course as doctors' surgery receptionists (Chesham High's excepted, of course).

The only significant difference between the school secretary and a rottweiler is that rottweilers are too frightened to go in the school office. Those aren't sardines in her sandwiches but freshly slaughtered piranhas who've just had their heads bitten off. The school secretary in my first school, Carshalton Boys, could bring down a Scud missile at 8,000 metres with a frosty stare.

Don't make waves in the staffroom. Established teachers don't like "know-it-all whipper-snappers".

The correct posture is open-mouthed admiration at your colleagues' teaching skills and frequent assertions as to how much you have to learn. This even includes the chemistry teacher whose lessons, if taped, could be used as an anaesthetic in major surgery.

If you're a PE teacher, don't do the Sun crossword in less than a day - staffrooms don't like clever-dick PE teachers. Always laugh at the jokes of the staffroom cynic - these tend to be male and quite often history teachers. This is mostly because a study of history teaches a healthy disrespect for all forms of cant - especially the educational variety. This also helps to explain why few history teachers get to be heads.

On the other hand, you don't want to maintain so low a profile that you sink without a trace. If you're unfortunate enough to be a teacher of what is already a low-profile subject (such as geography), then try to give it and yourself a little mystique by calling yourself a Teacher of Earth Sciences.

You could try volunteering for a variety of committees. The curriculum-related ones are really a waste of time but membership will earn you serious Brownie points and you won't have to do anything either. Most of these committees exist only because they've been written into a new deputy's job description. They meet religiously for eight months and then the deputy presents the committee's "findings" - the ones he'd written within a week of the committee being set up.

Staff-related committees, on the other hand, give you a chance to socialise more informally with your new colleagues. Some schools have Staff Welfare Committees. These are good fun. You sit around for an hour or so after school three times a term and listen to the old lags whinge about everything from the quality of toilet paper in the ladies loos to the fact that all the support straps on the staffroom chairs have collapsed. However, members of these committees soon induce such high levels of stress in themselves that they have to be disbanded on the grounds of . . . staff welfare.

If you're a Southerner teaching in the North, don't tell your new colleagues that you've "always wanted to do something for the developing world" by way of explanation as to what brought you to Liverpool.

Finally, if you're male and a young-looking NQT, try to grow some facial hair. If you're female, young and from Rochdale, you could try doing the same. Failing that, try not to dress too much like a Year 11 hussy. There's no greater humiliation for an NQT than to be sent to the back of the dinner queue for "pushing in".

Neil DeMarco is head of history at Chesham High School, Buckinghamshire.

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