First encounters;Features and arts

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
I'm not suggesting you actually look at my pay cheque this month, because it's usually quite depressing, but if you did, you might notice a little change. At the end of last year, when I was too tired and stressed to register the fact, I was given a responsibility point.

Now I see it waving at me from the bottom of my meagre pay slip every month, saying: "Look, you actually did something useful, you're not as crap as you think." And every month it gives me a huge amount of satisfaction (which far outweighs the monetary value, I might add, but what the hell, we were never in it for the big bucks). I've had my first sip of success, and I think I might be developing a taste for it.

For the uninitiated, a point seems a funny way to reward someone. The last time I got a point, or three actually, was when I was caught speeding, with Barry Manilow playing too loud on the car stereo. Then I had to pay up roughly double what I'm getting now. But in teaching, as I have explained to my concerned friends, points are not punitive. They're positive. They change the way you see yourself as a teacher.

I'm taking my point seriously. I've even tried to make an effort with my appearance, to fit in with my new, executive image. I turned up on the first day back in new suit and a gesture in the direction of make-up. The entire staffroom fell about laughing. "Who do you fancy, Gemma?" asked one of my ever-supportive colleagues. "I'm starting a love affair with myself," I told him. And it's true, in a way. My point suddenly made me realise I wasn't entirely pointless. Don't get excited, but I think I've finally scored.

It's interesting that rewards in teaching come point-shaped -with sharp edges.

Despite your bonus, you hardly become a fat cat of the educational establishment - if such a being exists. The amount of extra cash hardly justifies the hard graft that is now welded to your previously light NQT timetable, and the responsibility sometimes seems substantially to outweigh the reward. The DFEE drives a pretty hard bargain.

I have a secret suspicion that to be qualified to set teacher's wages, you have to be a stalwart of Sunday car-boot sales. I'd hate to be stuck behind such people in a bargain basement - you'd never get out alive. Anyone who says power is an aphrodisiac should try being a teacher with added responsibilities - it's the best sleeping pill around.

I keep thinking I ought to keep quiet about my altered status, otherwise the SMT might realise they've made some gigantic administrative mistake. It's not just my colleagues who find it difficult to take my new position seriously.

It's one small line on your pay cheque, but a gigantic leap in your imagination, especially when in your mind you're still an NQT who can't get anything right. But I'm doing my research, and reading up on motivational techniques. It's an interesting concept, giving a pep talk to yourself. "Well done, Gemma. You really earned your point today." "Why, thank you, Gemma. Nice of you to say so." Apparently, you've got to give yourself loads of rewards, and I don't feel I can argue with that. I seem to have spent each month's point well before I receive it.

We all know what points make. Prizes. I'm finally beginning to believe I might be good at what I do, and that's an important step. I can't recommend this new self-confidence thing highly enough. Get ap-pointed. Having a point means you've got a point, and it never hurts to be a little spiky.

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

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