First encounters

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
You may have heard about the strange sightings at school recently, that bizarre apparition gliding down the corridors, accompanied by the persistent sound of jangling. Never fear - in an educational exclusive, I can now reveal the answer. I have The Key.

No, not that Key (I haven't mastered the Art of Successful Teaching - that's still a glorious secret that no one wants to let me in on).

I mean The Key. The key to the English cupboard.

Maybe this doesn't seem like the most exciting of events, but to me it's an extra tool to whip out when yet another one of my lessons looks destined for breakdown. The key means Responsibility. It means Access All Areas. This is not a borrowed-key, it's not an acting-key, a key-in-waiting. Miss Warren can be trusted. She's part of the furniture. She's the Real McKey.

"It's not that we don't like you, Miss," explains Sonia after 50 minutes of negotiations involving the possibility of learning anything. "It's just you're not our real teacher."

Not being a Real Teacher is the curse of my life. When you open my bag, do you not find marking? When you look at my desk, does it not proudly display 16 different brands of caffeine-related products? It's a jungle out there, and Not Being A Real Teacher is like having no map.

So The Key is the metal strip that separates lesson heaven from lesson hell - my inflexible friend. The Key helps build that valuable illusion that I know what I'm doing. It deflects all possible means of resistance. "We've forgotten our books, Miss." No problem, The Key can handle it. "We haven't got any paper, Miss, so we can't do our homework." Just ask Mr Key.

The Key makes me glad the Iron Age happened. Striding down the corridor with this most precious of metals gives me that air of added authority, even if I am just desperately trying to remember where I've left my next class.

I've even taken to patrolling the corridors, always on the alert for anything that might need unlocking. The rest of the English department thinks I'm ridiculously helpful when I offer yet again to take that walk down to the cupboard, but it's all part of my campaign to prove that I'm not completely useless ("It's true that Gemma can't control a class, but she sure as hell knows how to unlock a door").

And the possibilities of The Key are endless. I've even taken to hanging meaningfully around the English cupboard hoping that Mr C might suddenly develop a burning desire to unlock the joys of English literature. All in the interests of education of course - aren't we supposed to be teaching the Key Skills?

Gemma Warren is a PGCE student at London University's Institute of Education. She graduated in English from Leeds last summer

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