First encounters

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Gemma Warren knows her way around

This scene is being played out in so many schools. A terrified member of Year 7 has no idea how to get to her next class. She plucks up the courage to ask a friendly member of Year 11, and that Good Samaritan helpfully points her in the right direction. Or at least, it seems like the right direction. It's actually totally wrong, and the poor Year 7, probably with a detention for being late, is traumatised for the rest of her life.

But I can guarantee that given the opportunity, that very Year 7 will do the same thing four years down the line. The moral of this story? It's good to be nice to people, but knowledge is power and we're all secret megalomaniacs.

I've been feeling a lot like that malicious Year 11 recently. I love being back at school. Not for any of the normal reasons. I don't want you to think it's because of the kids or teaching or my subject or anything like that. I love school, because it's my second year, and I know what to do. I know my way around. I just want to get that clear. Gone is that hesitant, shy girl who didn't know where her own form room was, to be replaced by a super-teacher who knows not only her own way to her form room, but the way to her form room - and the staffroom. And the hall. And could do the whole bloody lot backwards, with no clothes on, standing on her head if you asked her.

Teachers and students go out of their way to be nice, and yet seem to conspire to make you feel like shit. Finding your way to your lessons is like being a contestant on The Crystal Maze. On my first day, someone kindly said to me: "You can have lunch in the canteen, you know." So much superiority in so few words. I smiled nicely and thanked her profusely.

It left one question. "Where is the canteen? Is it upstairs? By the science labs? By the Year 7 lockers, wherever they may be?" It was a hungry day.

Oh, you'll get INSET all right. "How to control a classroom", "how to assess your classroom", "how to monitor progress in the classroom". What about how to find the classroom? No one tells you that every school is not identical to your teaching practice school. It's a cruel final trick to play on a hapless NQT, especially one who's always been geographically challenged. You can't get anywhere if you can't get anywhere. You get my drift.

But not anymore. I've dropped the "n" in NQT. The one that stood for "knows nothing". This week I have been literally swooping down familiar corridors, ushering kids into a classroom knowing it is categorically mine, and I won't be turfed out by an irate history teacher for not realising that this was his classroom every Thursday that coincides with a full moon in Aries. I can now climb the career ladder because I've actually worked out where it is. I'm flying first class along the information super highway and taking the short cut to the staffroom before the coffee runs out. I'm finally living in the fast lane.

But I suppose that I shouldn't forget the time when the playground looked like Spaghetti Junction. Part of being in your second year is that you're not so withered and twisted as to forget that it's an unexplored jungle out there, even though you have moved up a step on the food-chain. I'm going to dispense directions, and escort to lessons, and make myself personally responsible for giving information about all the obvious things that everyone forgets. I'll be your personal Yellow Pages. And then, I'm going to go to the loos, lock myself in, and laugh.

Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London

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