Does it mean a thing if staff want to swing?

29th June 2007 at 01:00
John Sutton is a pseudonym. He is a headteacher in North Wales

The staffroom is buzzing, aroused from its usual lethargy. A recently appointed teacher held a party. Some of the staff went along and discovered, to their surprise, that there was a rather adult dimension to this gathering.

It has certainly given them plenty to talk about. A bit of harmless bitching at break-time can set you up for the day, but this is different.

They want me to do something about it, but I am unsure what. I can advise him to be more careful but, until it affects his work in school, I can't do more.

I don't see this as anything more than an unusual lifestyle choice. Does it actually matter what we do at home, or indeed who we do it with?

I try to be liberal and open-minded, but there are things which are incompatible with working with children. Why should holding a swinging party make a difference to someone's ability to teach? But what will happen if, and probably when, such rumours reach the student body? His position would surely be untenable. They are, after all, entirely conventional.

It is always a mistake to parade our private lives. It is what the kids want to know. They want it to give them an edge, a means by which they can unsettle us. A motoring offence in the paper on a quiet news day can make life extremely difficult.

But this adult issue would be entirely different. I also have a concern about the younger members of staff. As far as I know, they had enough strength to walk out when things started to become clear.

What are my responsibilities to our student teachers? They are kids to me, but technically they are adults. They must make their own choices, which might be different from mine. Are they being groomed? Is our exotic on the prowl for fresh meat? And how do I prove it anyway? Do I warn the student teachers? The whole affair has brought something unwelcome into our lives.

This man has us running around in moral confusion. We are the ones with a problem, with our middle-class repressions.

The staffroom doesn't like it, but who cares? He does his job and, like the rest of us, he goes home. What do the rest of us do when we get home? There are parts of our lives we need to keep hidden.

Do I really need to know that the head of German is a naturist? Certainly not. It creates the kind of disturbing, wobbling images in my head that are likely to keep me awake at night.

I try not to pass judgment. This "swinging" practice is not what I believe in. But I try to regard it as another example of the richness of human life. Recreational sex or a gardening catalogue - these days it's a tough call.

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