First encounters;Talkback

6th February 1998 at 00:00
It was my second day of teaching practice, and I really needed to talk to my tutor. I spent 15 minutes hanging about outside the staffroom with some sympathetic Year 8s - "it's really hard when you can't find Miss, isn't it Miss?", when suddenly I had the revelation. I was staff. Just like those people on Stars in Their Eyes, I could walk through that door, and emerge transformed. But for the moment, I'm staff-struck - unable to make the transition.

I got off to a bad start in the first school I was observing. "You must be new," said the head sympathetically when he found me standing around looking lost. He directed me to the right room, where I spent a happy hour confiding my deepest hopes and fears about my future career. I was just thinking how lucky I was to have such understanding colleagues, when the sixth-form realised I was a teacher, and I realised this was not the staffroom. So excuse my insecurity about my authority. I still feel like a vertically-challenged spy let loose in teacherland, always afraid someone will blow my cover.

At first it all seemed so simple. This is what no one ever tells you - being a member of staff is just like being in school and only having to go to your favourite lesson. Brilliant!

Even better, you get to decide what you learn. Sorry, I mean teach. But apparently it's not just about your enjoyment. It seems that being a member of staff is actually more about the students, which doesn't leave a lot of room for that permanent identity crisis.

Just that word - staff - fills me with awe. I'm supposed to be the guide, the mainstay through the wilderness of learning, the means of conducting that odd miracle flash of insight. And yet I still can't get up the guts to call the head by her first name. And I still humiliate myself whenever I'm in a class where a Gemma is called in the register.

I'm not sure if standing outside is worse than standing out, but I'm quickly learning the tricks of the trade. Walk earnestly around with piles of papers to discourage resentment for all the free periods you get. And look continually at your watch throughout staff meetings, even if you're secretly loving every minute. Groan and roll your eyes theatrically whenever anyone says Chris Woodhead - even when you're not quite sure why.

But there are compensations. Anyone who thinks that teaching isn't glamorous should try pushing self-importantly through the throng waiting outside the staffroom at break. It's the nearest thing to having backstage passes at an Oasis concert. You also get exclusive access to hunky Mr C from the maths department, and get to spend your free periods ogling him, to the envy of Year 11.

Being a member of staff certainly adds to your self development - I used to think a square root was the primary ingredient in Chinese medicine. but now I get to have long, earnest discussions about how maths plays a fundamental part in literacy - and it's not called a crush, it's called cross-curricular.

How do you fancy a teacher when you are a teacher? This is an important aspect of my staff development that needs to be addressed. That, and my alarming new ability to urinate pure coffee. Becoming a member of staff is fraught with complications - it's amazing how many crises you can fit in before 8.45am. I'd like to go back and reassure those Year 8s - sometimes waiting outside is a lot easier. Liam's married anyway.

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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