Charity begins

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Surely induction was never meant to be like this...

Sandie says I'm a gazelle. A gullible gazelle. And I thought I was a history teacher. Silly me.

I'm in my first induction session at St Brian's, and my mentor is a hippy called Sandie McSniff. There are four of us in the group: as well as me, there's Brenda Gache, the new PE teacher who seems to have dug the dirt on the entire staffroom in the space of five weeks; Mick Sharpe, an Australian science teacher with whom every girl from Year 8 upwards has fallen in love; and Graham Love, who's on supply but has somehow bagged a short-term contract. (Brenda tells me, cryptically, that Graham's interview with Amy Studds, the school bursar, "went on a bit longer than is usual".) Brenda has already briefed me about Sandie McSniff. I had been puzzled as to why Orlando Jones, the head of drama, and John Baller, our union rep, are so vitriolic about Sandie. Orlando seems to be obsessed with her cellulite, and John swears obscenely at the mention of her name. According to Brenda, it's all down to a scandalous incident a few years ago after a particularly heavy session in the 13 Horseshoes. "Sandie, Orlando and John, well, you know, when the pub closed there were afters. Trebles all round, as it were."

I recall that scene in Women in Love where Alan Bates and Oliver Reed are wrestling naked and feel slightly queasy.

Sandie is wearing a crinkly chiffon skirt with mirrors, and a lace-up cheesecloth top. Her office is a small, chaotic room with arty photographs of beefy sixth-form boys on the walls. There's a framed poster that says:

"Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles". Sandie catches me gazing. "RD Laing," she sighs. "What a man." "Yes, and his sister's a great singer." Sandie looks at me blankly. "You know, KD LangI ?" It's a bad joke and Sandie isn't laughing. I realise why even our hardest kids baulk when threatened with a "McSniffing". The consensus is that she's a "complete freak-out".

Sandie holds up a sheet of A3 paper on which she has written: "The Induction Support Programme for Newly Qualified Teachers (DfES04582003".

"We won't be needing that, will we?" she says and rips the paper into little pieces. She says she likes to take a "psychoanalytical approach" with NQTs because induction "is really about discovering the person inside the teacher, not the other way round". Stage one is to "let go of ourselves".

Letting go of ourselves involves taking on alter egos that Sandie has created for us. Brenda is awkward ox, I am gullible gazelle, Graham is sneaky stoat. None of us really gets it, although Mick seems more than happy to be known as lordly lion.

The brief is that we have to relate to each other through our animal personas. Within five minutes Brenda is snivelling in the corner where she has been told to go and graze. Sandie is stroking Mick's mane. I panic when I hear Sandie tell Graham to wrap himself round my legs.

"Excuse me, Sandie!" I yell. "But I haven't been getting my 10 per cent reduced timetable. What should I do?"

Sandie tells everyone to stop, "because Charity Casement doesn't want to let go". Damn right I don't. Not yet, anyway.

Next week: Orlando throws a party

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