Teachers are a bunch of scruffs who could learn a thing or two about grooming from the entrants to Crufts, says Steve Devrell
Why do I leave the Education Show at the NEC each year feeling irritated and cynical with my fellow teachers? Is there any other profession so excitably loud and stylishly inept. Somehow I doubt it.
From the moment I parked my car between a Maestro and a Metro at this year's event, I was in no doubt that I was in the right place. Just for confirmation I read the car stickers that seemed to be holding the Metro together - "If you can read this, thank a teacher" and "Education cuts won't heal". Yes, I had arrived.
The grumbling started almost immediately. The car park was too far away, the signposts too small, the surface too muddy. The queue for the shuttle bus was too long, the service too infrequent and the seats on board too few.
When the driver asked everyone politely to move down the bus, his instruction was echoed by a dozen or so who couldn't get out of the habit of relaying such information to children. As the bus pulled away, everyone made an exaggerated jerk forward and the grumbling continued.
Inside the hall, each teacher needed to be registered. This too provoked immense and unnecessary complications for the poor girls who had been recruited for the task. "I am a junior teacher, but I help out every other Wednesday and Friday afternoon in the nursery." And:"Where it asks what department am I in - I am the science co-ordinator, but I also do RE while Hilary is on maternity leave. Shall I tick both?" Fashions were diverse. Men wearing ill-fitting jeans and Boxing Day sweaters mingled happily with the old trusty suit brigade. The suit and tie never change, the shirt every other day. A concession to the late Nineties has been the virtual disappearance of leather elbow patches. But the male teacher often remains grubby and unimaginative in appearance. No wonder the show is twinned with Crufts. Sharing the venue with The Clothes Show would be most inappropriate.
Women seemed to fare better on the fashion stakes, but the original designer of black leggings must have been heartened by their popularity. Is this awful garment what female primary teachers use to identify themselves in a crowd? Do they phone their colleagues up in the morning and whisper "black leggings" to each other down the line? Something must surely happen because the uniformity is extraordinary.
At lunchtime, many of the male teachers had given up. For them it was a welcome relief from 4C. They took their seats in The Broken Blood Vessel (the NEC bar) and there they would stay. The female teachers were much more resolute. There were free plastic bags to collect. Why? "They are useful for storing newspaper, that's why. Silly Boy."
At the end of the day the grumbling began again. Queues, buses, car parks, notices, the rain, the lighting, their feet. Back in the car park, one woman was speaking irritably to an attendant because he didn't know where her car was parked.
"It's a red Metro. I don't know what car park number, why would I know a thing like that?" All this and more on "the teachers' day out". What hope do we have of raising our status and esteem with parents and pupils when our public face is so poor? We are still portrayed as a quirky, dictatorial and unfashionable profession and on the evidence of the Education Show, with justification. I cannot imagine that a convention of doctors or lawyers would behave in such a bizarre way.
Teaching is a crucial job coupled with a terrible image, and the image will be the most difficult thing to change. But change it must if teaching is to take its rightful place in society. Little wonder we seem to be losing the battle with the unruly. How can young people associate with someone who looks and behaves so out of touch?
Teachers are always being told to change their visual displays, but the most crucial visual aid of all often looks the same day in and day out.
Steve Devrell is a junior school teacher in Solihull, West Midlands