Don't cook up trouble for yourself

8th January 1999 at 00:00
It's always advisable to make yourself popular with non-teaching staff, says Kevin Berry

I cherish a remark overheard, some years ago, in a country pub. "Oh you'll be all right, my dear. Just make sure your dinner numbers are correct, that's all they ever worry about in schools."

How absolutely true. Get the dinner numbers wrong and you irritate the school secretary, the cook and her staff. Once or twice is acceptable but make regular mistakes, waste people's time and they are less inclined to put themselves out for you.

Have a pin-drop silence and an established routine when you mark the registers. Have all of the children seated, and take your time. Teachers who are slipshod with dinner registers don't get extra pudding or Christmas cards and, on a serious note, mistakes with the attendance register can have serious consequences. Consider how you would feel if a child was marked "present" but was not in the classroom. Checking your children quickly is best achieved if they each have a number and they call them out in order.

Ask the school secretary to explain how the dinner register has to be filled in - it can be complicated and there is no shame in asking.

If you have absence notes, keep them until the end of term; if you have payment lists for a school trip, class photographs etc, keep them with the register. Have plenty of labelled tins to collect money in, sometimes the children can be bringing in three or four different amounts each day, and carry about pound;5 worth of change - it all saves time, hassle and worry. It is also a good idea to have some photocopied class lists and a list, with dates and amounts, of the adults in school who have asked you to sponsor them. It can be difficult to keep track and having the cash ready will save grumbling.

Trip letters? Tell the school secretary as soon as you have confirmed the outing, she will already have a format for a trip letter so leave her to it.

School caretakers can be real bogeymen. One I knew could empty the school of teachers who had stayed late by simply striding into the hall and coughing.

Subtle hint: caretakers and cleaners are rarely praised. If you are setting up elaborate displays, have a word with the caretaker or your cleaner. They will help with advice and tips, particularly with adhesives, and they will know where in school you can find suitable drapes and furniture. They will also point out problems that you haven't foreseen.

Have non-teaching adults in the classroom whenever you can. If children treat them with respect there will be many, many benefits. A colleague invited the lollipop man into school to present the Cycling Proficiency Certificates. It was a wise and wonderfully effective idea: the lollipop man's esteem rose and the children were calmer and much more careful when they crossed the road.

Classroom assistants are helpful, to varying degrees. One I had was so quick that I was forever looking for things for her to do. She grew irritated with school, and probably me, started her own business and is now a millionairess. Another classroom assistant had to be helped so much that I used to dread her knock on the door. I'm ashamed to say that one afternoon I hid the staple gun in my desk and sent her around school looking for it.

Agree an area of responsibility for your classroom assistants - would a notebookdiary of tasks be helpful? You will have to be very precise, but never patronising, about how you want things done and the colours and materials to be used. It will help both of you if shehe works somewhere in the classroom.

Treat the non-teaching staff with respect, allow them their dignity and self-esteem, not so that you will win their teacher popularity poll but to make your job and their job that much easier.

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