Fatal reaction

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Romance at the chalkface is conducted in such an intense - and public - environment that a rejected partner can sometimes behave in a scary fashion. Janet Murray offers some Valentine's Day tips for avoiding the Bunny Boiler

Fans of Channel 4's Teachers could be forgiven for thinking that staffrooms are a hotbed of romantic intrigue. While saucy notes left in pigeon holes or steamy liaisons in the stock cupboard make compelling viewing, the reality of dating a colleague is far more complicated. Dave Quigley should know. After his staffroom romance went sour, he would definitely think twice before dating a colleague.

"When Emma started working at my school, I fancied her straight away," says the history teacher, who works at a large comprehensive in Kent. "She was great fun, very sociable, but also committed to her job. As a newly qualified teacher, she was obviously under pressure, but we became close friends and started going out together a few months later."

Initially, they were secretive about their relationship, but when they went public, things began to deteriorate.

"Emma wouldn't leave me alone," Mr Quigley recalls. "She practically moved into my flat, insisted on travelling to school with me in the morning, and wanted us to be together even at break and lunchtimes. It all got too much, so I suggested we cool things off."

What he wasn't prepared for was her reaction to being dumped. "She didn't care who knew how upset she was," he says. "There were tears and tantrums in the staffroom, notes left on my car and in my register where anyone could have seen them - even the students. It was very embarrassing.

"After a few weeks, a senior member of staff took her aside and gently explained that she was damaging her own professional reputation - and mine.

Luckily, she saw sense and backed down.

"It's been a few years now, but things are still awkward between us. For me, dating a colleague was a big mistake. I wouldn't be keen to repeat the experience."

While Mr Quigley is finished with staffroom romance, the rest of the teaching population clearly isn't. According to a recent survey carried out by teachersdiscounts.co.uk, a website that offers special deals for teachers, 60 per cent of them have dated or are dating a colleague. A further 6 per cent admit they have their eye on a workmate.

Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist, is not surprised. "Teaching isn't like any other job," she says. "Many teachers find that partners from other professions don't understand the pressures they are under. And many are so busy at work they simply don't get the opportunity to meet people from other professions."

She believes staffroom romances are inevitable. Managed carefully, they can be very successful. But to safeguard relationships, teachers do need to be aware of the potential problems.

"Because of the way the school day is structured, teachers may find themselves meeting one another throughout the day," says Ms Quilliam. "At the beginning of a romance this can seem appealing, but as the relationship progresses, one or other of the partners may feel they need more space - particularly if they are also married or living together. There is also added pressure because you're likely to both be busy at the same time of the year, such as the report season, which can mean double the stress!"

Teachers who work together need to make sure they keep work and home as separate as possible. Ms Quilliam advises couples to agree a cut-off time in the evenings for work-related chat. Making the effort to socialise with non-teachers is another way to avoid talking shop. Discretion is also crucial. Boasting about your partner's sexual prowess over lunch in the canteen or slobbering over each other in the staffroom won't do your professional reputation any favours.

Teachers who date colleagues also need to think about their behaviour away from school. Playing tonsil tennis in the high street or the back row of the cinema is definitely out - particularly if you live and work in the same town. But even if you are discreet, the very idea of a teacher dating a colleague can be intriguing for your pupils.

When John and Becky Parker first starting dating, they found themselves the object of intense pupil speculation. The couple met five years ago at a large comprehensive in Manchester and married two years later.

"As soon as we met, we really hit it off," recalls Mrs Parker, who still teaches English at the school. "But staff relationships seemed to be frowned upon, so it took us a year or so to get together. As soon as we did, the rumour machine was under way.

"We tried to be discreet, but were soon spotted out together by students and then the gossip started. At first it was quite amusing, but then it became upsetting. Because John had been married before and had a child at the school, the students were saying we'd had an affair and I'd broken up the marriage. I know it was only student gossip, but I hated to think what they were going home and telling their parents."

Ms Quilliam thinks this kind of reaction is largely unavoidable. "You have to remember that teenagers are just coming to terms with love and sex," she says. "So if 'Sir' starts dating 'Miss', they are going to find it fascinating. Some students won't be able to resist making cheeky comments, but a good-natured put-down, such as 'I don't ask about your love life, so don't ask about mine', is usually enough to quash inappropriate questioning."

If the relationship is successful, an initial period of awkwardness may well be worth it. But if the relationship doesn't work out, you could be left wondering if it was worth the bother.

Ms Quilliam insists that teachers can recover from a split with a colleague - if they stay professional. "If you do split from a work colleague, try to confide in somebody outside of the school. You do need to let people know, but if you start discussing it with work colleagues, you might be tempted to criticise your partner and make yourself look unprofessional.

"At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself this: how do you want to be remembered in five years: for that messy break up with a colleague or because you're a good teacher. This should help you get things into perspective."


* Keep work and home separate

* Set a time limit on school talk after school and at weekends

* Try not to discuss your relationship with colleagues - particularly the intimate details!

* Avoid physical contact at school

* Avoid meeting in places you are likely to bump into your students

* If it doesn't work out, stay professional. Try not to confide in colleagues

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today