First encounters

5th February 1999 at 00:00
New teacher Gemma Warren is intimidated by a student

I've been waiting weeks for our student to arrive. I'm sick of being the lowest of the low - I feel ready to delegate the job to someone else. I'm thinking that if we have someone really useless, it might make me look better. I spend whole days fantasising about the amount of marking I can load off on to her, all in the name of training, you understand. I feel it's important that she gets used to a heavy workload.

The only problem is that she's taking my lovely Year 7s. The ones who I've successfully trained to say "Miss Warren We Are Your Symphony" every time I walk into the room. They know that if they say it with feeling there's a good chance I'll be so choked up that I won't set them any homework. "Miss Warren," said one of them at the end of my class last week, "you have our sympathy." "No, it's symphony," I tell her. "Sympathy means something else entirely." "I know what it means, Miss," she said.

So our student is taking them, but I'm OK with that. At least I was until I met her. I had visions of happily patronising this little thing straight from university, but I've just been presented with an ex-Miss World who's circumnavigated the globe six times, specialises in modern poetry, and who's obviously a size 10. She doesn't look like she's subsisting solely on digestive biscuits and taking part in sleep-deprivation experiments. I hate her.

"Let me introduce you to your Year 7s," I say sweetly, "they're an extremely difficult class."

"You don't seem to have any problems with them," she points out. Well, that's just the kind of teacher I am, sweetheart.

I consider dropping her in it. I find the class in the morning and tell them that they've got a new teacher. "Now be nice to her," I warn, "she's a st-." Shall I tell them she's a student? Can I go that low? "She's a stu-." I try to get it out.

"She's a what, Miss?" Year 7 ask. I can't do it. "She's a stunning blonde," I tell them, through gritted teeth.

Her first lesson starts. I do everything I can to sabotage it. I consider setting off the fire alarm. I hang around in the corridor, making as much noise as I can, until someone from the history department tells me to sod off.

She's doing all these things like preparation, like interactive activities, like making learning fun. All the things I used to do in my days of naivete. "Well, it's all right if you believe in that kind of stuff," I tell her. "I never have much use for it myself."

I take her into the staffroom at the end of the lesson. "Now, let's talk about all the things that went wrong," I say hopefully, making her a coffee in my least favourite mug. "They were fine," she says. "Well, I told them to go gently with you," I inform her.

I corner them in the canteen afterwards. My paranoia is rising by the second. I'm on a diet from now on. "So how was your lesson?" "Great, Miss." "Great? Well, where do we stand now? Are you still my symphony? I suppose you say that to all your teachers." "None of our other teachers need to hear it before they start a lesson, Miss," they tell me. "But don't worry, she's not a bit like you."

I'm hoping they don't understand the concept of irony yet.

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

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