Some singles may be hoping to meet a new mate in the New Year. What makes it so hard for teachers? Wendy Wallace reports.
"Vivacious, professional woman, 34, likes literature, theatre and travel, seeks intelligent, aware man for possible long-term relationship. No teachers. "
Susie, an English teacher at a large comprehensive in commuter-belt Kent, is the vivacious, professional woman seeking a new partner - so long as he's not a teacher.
She's been on her own for several years, after a long live-in relationship broke up when she was in her late twenties. She wants to meet a suitable mate but can't imagine how it will happen. "I've found it quite difficult to carve out a new social life for myself," she says. "I'm so busy at work, producing plays and things, I come home absolutely exhausted. Then I spend at least one day of the weekend working."
Susie doesn't believe she's likely to meet anyone through work. "Going on the strength of the men I see in the staffroom, I definitely wouldn't choose a teacher," she says. "There might be one or two fanciable men, but they're 10 years younger than me. Mainly they're very married, or they're confirmed bachelors, the old dusty teacher type. The kind of men who'd expect you to make their packed lunch for them. I find them singularly unattractive."
Worked off their feet, often in predominantly female environments, is it more difficult for teachers - male or female - to find romance than it is for those in other professions?
Mary Balfour, proprietor of Drawing Down the Moon (the "thinking person's introduction agency") - and a former teacher herself - believes it is. Of the 800 people on her books, a couple of dozen are teachers. And although she is at pains to stress the happy unions she has been able to bring about, she describes matching teachers as "a bit more of a challenge".
"They have low status, so it's difficult to get people from other professions to meet them," she says. "Then if people have had a negative educational experience themselves, they tend to carry this with them all the way through their lives. So teachers start off with this great disadvantage."
Despite this, only a minority of people who approach Drawing Down the Moon specify that they don't want to meet teachers. And teachers can overcome their innate disadvantages, says Mary Balfour, by writing an extra-enthusiastic account of themselves in the personal "profile" all her clients supply. "They've got to make it sound as if they really enjoy their job and they get a lot of satisfaction from it," she says. "If you don't sound positive about your job, nobody wants to meet you."
Paul, deputy head of a rural primary school, is 36 and divorced. He has been "fixed up" by colleagues who, he says, take a benign interest in his personal life, or lack of it. "It's an all-female staff and they tend to mother me a bit," he says. "They're mostly older than me but I don't think that would make that much difference anyway. They seem to have this kind of maternal impulse and I don't mind bathing in it."
The blind date didn't work out, and Paul's still looking for a partner. His previous marriage - to a teacher - ended several years ago. Living and working in a small village means that social opportunities are limited. "I do meet people," he says, "and they're very nice people, but most of them are under 10. I get invited to lots of birthday parties."
Mary Balfour crisply despatches the idea that teachers are disadvantaged in terms of meeting people through work. "Anybody over about 25 finds it difficult meeting people, regardless of where they work," she says. "You can't normally meet people through your work and have an affair with them. It's just not on."
Despite reservations about the kind of people she might meet, Susie braved the introduction agency scene, and joined DDM. In her case, a number of men from other professions have wanted to meet her, although so far none of the introductions has resulted in a lasting relationship.
She hasn't knowingly encountered any prejudice because of her job. But, she says, she doesn't look like a teacher. "I haven't got that stereotyped severity that is perhaps what people fear. Also I'm quite small and certainly not awesome. Not Jean Brodie."
Susie thinks she would be a better teacher if she had a flourishing love life. "I think you've got that extra smile, that extra charisma in the classroom, if you're happy within yourself," she says. "If you're not, you can go on autopilot but I think the kids sniff it out. If you're emotionally low, it can be very hard. You can't just have a day when you go into the office and look out of the window. You've got to have a persona in front of the class."
On the other hand, Paul thinks his solitary life makes him a better teacher, because of the amount of time he is able to spend at school. He arrives before 8am and doesn't leave until 6.30pm. He sometimes goes into school on Saturday mornings. But he would happily work shorter hours in exchange for a woman in his life. "A private life is more important than work, really," he says. "I don't get morbid about it. But I do sometimes think that I'm still fairly young at the moment but in another 10 or 20 years I might feel I've really wasted my life - put it all into schools and had little benefit myself."
Paul, like other teachers The TES spoke to, feels the profession has an image problem. "Teaching has traditionally been a job done by priests, celibates or spinsters," he says. "And I guess the image lives on. If a TV programme is looking for a young, dynamic hero, they don't immediately think: 'Oh, we'll have someone who's a primary school teacher'."
On the other side of the fence, in coupledom, the grass is not necessarily greener. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers recently made a telephone legal helpline available to its members. After two months, union officials were surprised to find that relationship problems made up the biggest single category of callers' concerns. General secretary Peter Smith attributed this to heavy workload.
Are teachers really more stressed than anyone else? Mary Balfour thinks they may be. "The demands of the job mean that they take their work home with them and they're often doing marking over weekends or preparing classes during holidays. They do tend to find it such a stressful job that it flows over into their home life, and people know that. And I think sometimes teachers get into the mode of being in charge of situations, and then get a bit nonplussed when they find they can't do this in their personal life."
But there are happy endings, even for teachers. Ginette, the 45-year-old deputy head of a London comprehensive, is divorced with a child. She decided to try an introduction agency when she found that she "wasn't meeting enough men whom I liked. I wanted to broaden the circle of my acquaintances". Financially secure and self-confident, Ginette was far from desperate but she wanted to plan for a shared future.
"It wasn't going to happen in teaching," she said. "I've never gone out with teachers. They're too similar, and at my level the men are likely to be competitive. If they haven't made it to senior management, they tend to be a bit disgruntled. Equally, if you are their fellow deputy or head it seems it has to be competitive, for them."
Through Drawing Down the Moon, Ginette met an artist, a dentist and "someone in computers". She spent nearly two years with the dentist, before the relationship foundered over issues to do with his three children. Then she met a teacher.
"As it turned out, I found him really interesting," she said. "We both love travel. We have some common taste in music. And there's a good understanding of each other's professional life, which at my stage I find very helpful. And he does too. We've been together for nearly a year."
Drawing Down the Moon, a south of England-based introduction agency for professional people, can be contacted on 071 937 8880. Some names in this article have been changed.
The dating game: play it safe
Mary Balfour's guidelines for choosing a partner through an introduction agency.
Choosing an agency
Check whether the agency:
* is a member of the Association of British Introduction Agencies (ABIA). This is a watchdog body which is working to improve standards in the business. It arranges arbitration in disputes and if an agency goes out of business, it will place you with another. The number of the ABIA is 071-937 2800;
* covers your geographical area;
* has members in an appropriate age group;
* has an acceptable ratio of men to women (all agencies will have slightly more women on their books);
* has members of a similar social and educational background to your own; * advertises in media you approve of (beware those that advertise in soft-porn magazines);
* has enough staff to spend as much time on matchmaking as on recruiting clients;
* allows you to choose your potential partners;
* runs social events as well as one-to-one introductions.
The first date
* arrange a time when you are likely to be relaxed and at your best;
* meet on neutral territory, never in anyone's home;
* meet only for a short time, then you can escape if the person is not what you expected. Even if the meeting goes well, keeping it short means you won't be putting too much pressure on the other person;
* if you feel nervous, say so. It will help to diffuse the tension;
* don't talk about why your last relationship broke up;
* strive for a good balance between talking and listening;
* if you like the person, say so and suggest another short meeting.