Clangers in the call of duty

17th December 2004 at 00:00
No amount of lectures, teaching practice or tutorials can prepare you for the challenge of dealing with the public. What they don't tell you at college is, like it or not, once you start work as a teacher, you are guaranteed instant fame.

Early morning playground duty is your first public appearance of the day.

As experienced teachers patrol the Tarmac, avoiding eye contact and clasping the bell like a personal alarm, or walk in pairs for protection, the NQT chats to every parent and child. This is commendable. But be warned: there is always a parent who will keep you in conversation until after the bell should have rung, prompting a quiet word from the headteacher about timekeeping later in the day.

Ritual public humiliation is part of the job, and the most regular of the open degradations you face is weekly assembly. Standing up and speaking in front of a hall full of children is just a larger version of classroom duty, isn't it? But when the other teachers stay behind to discuss what you've said, stress levels rise. Jonathan Ross's razor-sharp wit has nothing on the cutting sarcasm of your colleagues. If you mess up an assembly, it will stay in their memories for months, maybe years. So you can't help but cringe at your rabid drivelling as you wish you'd remembered earlier than 10.30 the previous night that it was your assembly today.

If forward planning is your forte, you'll have arranged for a guest speaker during your termly slot. As the local nurse arrives to educate your congregation about nits, you relish your 15 minutes of day-dreaming. You may even think about your next lesson.

But complacency is every starlet's downfall. The nurse needs an introduction, a thank you, and a recap of what she has said. Worse, the nurse may like to involve the teacher, often to his or her embarrassment and professional detriment, and the delight of the hungry audience. Bang goes your kudos in the staffroom for the next fortnight.

At the end of the school day, you nip to the shop to buy the lunch you had no chance to eat earlier. Unfortunately, a child from your class is there and loudly announces the unfortunate assembly episode to mummy. The whole shop turns to stare. Again, you move into public relations mode, smiling and laughing while inwardly cringing and counting the paces back to the safety of the school gates.

But, thankfully, it's Friday and, much as you love your class, you don't have to see them or their parents again until Monday, so you head to the pub with a few mates. Being new to the area, you've chosen the local, full of the parents in your catchment area, who scrutinise you with a snake-like smile that suggests someone with a role in society as pivotal as yours should certainly not be doing tequila slammers.

Once you are a teacher, you become public property, more so than any movie star or politician. Directly and indirectly you are known by hundreds of people, who will have high expectations of you. You will be discussed, dissected (metaphorically of course) and debated. Life will never be the same again.

As you reach for another drink, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that your job is more secure than the Education Secretary's, they won't publish bikini shots of you in Hello! and the pension isn't bad - if you can stick it out for the next 35 years.

Claire Brooklyn is PE co-ordinator at Waterbeach community primary school, Cambridge

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