Charity begins

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Angel Montague can't decide if she's a teacher or a pupil

The chilly winds of truth are blasting through the corridors of St Brian's.

It's the history department meeting, and top of the agenda is feedback from the "Let's All Lead" questionnaire we have been required to complete as part of the head's drive for increased professional and emotional transparency. It's a terrible idea, of course, and an open invitation to every flake in the staffroom to give vent to the kind of grievances, real and imagined (mostly the latter), that are best not shared with one's colleagues. We're basically doing psychotherapists out of work.

During my NQT year I had romantic visions of departmental meetings as informal gatherings where we'd nibble Duchy Originals biscuits and sip fair-trade coffee as we giggled and gossiped before adjourning to the pub to cobble together some minutes that would placate senior management.

Instead, my boss, Judith Crock, disappeared on extended sick leave, and I became head of department after two terms as a teacher.

Across the table from me is a haze of blonde hair, flourescent hair clips and a fluffy white jumper. Angel Montague, NQT and second member of the history department, sits like a supermarket meringue: hard and glacial on the outside, sickly sweet and brittle on the inside. I've done my best - the biccies are on the table and the coffee is brewing - but Angel is still on detox and says she's fine with water and rice cakes. The two Aussie supply teachers who make up the rest of my department sit to one side laughing over their latest photomessages.

"Well, I'll start, shall I?" I begin. Angel shrugs. "My results show that I'm an affiliative leader who focuses on the emotional needs of my employees. I offer empathy and support when necessary and..." I am interrupted by Angel. "Supportive! Ha!" Her eyes are ablaze. "What about when I needed help over the holiday? You know how Christmas puts me on a downer."

"Er, you mean the text messages you sent me about not having a boyfriend and how you'd started binge eating again?"

"Yes, and I don't recall getting any replies," she spits. "Not even on Christmas Day. So much for empathy and support!"

Angel's resentment had been building up over the autumn term. Initially I had sympathised. I had gone through it myself the year before. Being an NQT at St Brian's is less a baptism of fire and more a burning at the stake.

But she needs to cut the cutesy girl routine and get on with it.

"When's Judith coming back?" she demands in a surly tone. "She was always supportive."

"Well, I don't see how you could possibly know that, Angel, as you never had the pleasure of working with Miss Crock."

"I think I know her a bit better than you. She was my teacher for seven years. It was my dream to come back and work here with her - and I ended up with you!"

No one has seen fit to tell me that Angel Montague is an ex-pupil. But it makes perfect sense. As she flings her questionnaire at me and rushes from the room, one of the Aussies looks up from her phone. "She's suffering from acute role confusion, Charity. An aversion to intimacy combined with a fixation on an unattainable mother figure. It's messy, but I've seen worse at this place."

Next week: The trouble with Blaine

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