Forget all that touchy-feely crap about your first year being a wonderful learning curve

6th July 2001 at 01:00
It's non-stop, character-defying hell

I want you to know that it's not you, it's me. I need some time apart. You're too good for me. I don't deserve you. I'll probably regret this in the morning. You deserve someone better, and I know you'll be happier without me.

This is the worst break-up of my life. I have a new job. I'm stuck in this oxymoronic state of loving somewhere, but knowing that I'm leaving it. Getting a new job is miserable. I love my school. I love the walls of my classroom, I love the filing cabinet that never opens when I need it to, I love the fridge in the staffroom and I especially love the pile of marking that's sitting on my desk from the class who I've taught for the past two years. I love anything, in short, that resembles continuity and stability.

It's amazing how a change of scenery can make you appreciate the small things. After the first celebrations, cue soul-searching, cue misery, cue wishing I hadn't made that audacious job application, cue hiding under the covers in despair. I definitely had an overdose of women's magazines when I fell into the trap of thinking that challenge was good, safety was bad, and I really wanted a class of kids who think that they can walk all over me because I'm new. Forget all that touchy-feely crap of your first year being a wonderful learning curve. It's non-stop, character-defying hell, and I have just signed on the dotted line to say that I want to go through it all again. I must be mental.

Being in school when you know you are leaving is a bizarre experience. You feel like a traitor to the colleagues who have put their trust in you, to the kids you have watched grow, to your form, to your friends, to the cleaning lady whom you chat to every morning, and the security man on the gate whom you wave to every evening. You feel as if you are stamping on the hundreds of small kindnesses that people do to you every day and saying, "sod you all, I'm going somewhere else". You're a two-faced, horrible cow. You're involved in planning meetings for things that you will not see through, you smile at parents' evening when they ask you what you'll be covering next year, when inside you feel that you're abandoning their children and running after the big bucks.

It's always been very different when my friends have left jobs. They've been involved in cloak-and-dagger meetings at odd times of the day and night. They've kept it a secret from their office because they're terrified of being accused of being disloyal. When they've made the final break, they've cleared their desks, taken their holiday, and left at once. It couldn't be more different for me - from my initial sighting of a job in The TES, showing it round the staffroom for general comments and approvalwarning-off, getting advice on everything from my CV to the shoes I should wear to the interview, and departing on the interview day promising to telephone 15 people on my return.

My non-teaching friends thought it bizarre. "And you'll actually stay in your job till the end of the summer term?" asked my best friend incredulously at my celebration dinner. To her, I was now the enemy within, a spy who had been identified but not yet thrown out of the country. Still enjoying full privileges, as it were. "It's a funny job, teaching," she said, in the tone of voice that didn't sound like she wanted to give up her air-conditioned office.

It's strange walking around familiar corridors and knowing that they won't be familiar for much longer. I hated telling my form, my exam classes, the parents that I speak to regularly. I suppose that leaving your teaching job requires you to show that one characteristic that is kept well away from schools: selfishness. It feels that this is the first time in my teaching career I have actually indicated that I am doing something purely for my own advancement, even though I know that it will inconvenience and maybe upset other people.

Cosmopolitan might call it assertiveness. I'm being a confident, go-getting, twenty-something career girl. That doesn't sit very well with my image of myself as a teacher. So, when people ask me how I feel to be going, I say that I'm happy-sad.

Gemma Warren teaches at Latymer school, Edmonton, north LondonEmail: gemmaw@callnetuk.com

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