First encounters

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Gemma Warren's flatmate despairs of living with a teacher.

I came home from work the other day to find a note stuck to the fridge. "Gone out. If you get a chance, we need more milk."

Underneath it said: Q1. Fill in the blanks in this sentence: We ..... some more .....

Q2. Imagine you are working behind the counter of the corner shop. How would you feel if someone walked in and asked for a pint of semi-skimmed milk? Please use full sentences in your answer.

Welcome to the wonderful world of flat-sharing with a teacher.

You see, I don't actually just share a flat with Gemma. I share it with all 30 members of her form, WAR 11, whose every move and word need to be discussed at great length at the end of every day. I also share a flat with a large plank of wood that has three mouldy bananas and a copy of A Room With a View stuck to it.

"Someone's left some rubbish in the middle of the lounge," I told Gemma the other night. "It's not rubbish, it's a creative writing stimulus," she said. How stupid of me. Three months ago I thought Year 13 was about the right time for your voice to start breaking. I thought key stage 3 was the position you had reached when you were spending every night round at your girlfriend's but she hadn't told you the code for the burglar alarm yet. How wrong can a person be?

I've never met any other group of people who complain about their job with as much enthusiasm as they defend it. "How were the little shits today?" I asked her last week, echoing the sarcasm and bitterness that usually kicks in about 6.30pm.

Immediately I'm pinned to the sofa in a head lock. "Don't you dare talk about my children like that! You don't know them! You don't understand them!" It takes three cups of conciliatory coffee to bring her round, and then she starts complaining about them as usual. "I'm your social conscience," she tells me, "now buy me dinner."

I've experienced PMT before. Meet NQT. This takes the concept into a different dimension. Sharing a flat with a teacher means having your room regularly ransacked for ideas for PSE lessons. (What happened to those condoms you had?) It means being dragged into school to sit through concerts and plays you really couldn't care less about, but it's more than my life is worth to admit it. It means being woken at 6.30am and told to get ready for school. "School?" "Yes, you're speaking at the careers day, did I forget to tell you? Well it doesn't matter if you take a day off work does it?" Not really. If I spend any more time at the photocopier sneaking sets of 30 "How to Write a Literature Coursework Essay" sheets, I'm going to get fired anyway.

There should be an alternative teaching union for all those thousands of people who live with a teacher, or who otherwise support them. All those people who get Grandstand furiously switched off because "I'm trying to mark. Just because you haven't got anything better to do." All those people who try their hardest to appreciate the adorable antics of little David in Year 8, but secretly wish that he'd just bugger off so they could watch the football in peace. "Nobody forgets a good teacher," said Gemma sweetly to me the other night as I was trying to climb over an Everest of exercise books to get into the toilet. Maybe. But some of us are trying our hardest.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer School, Edmonton, north London. Her flatmate wishes to remain anonymous

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