Gemma Warren emerges from the classroom

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Three months ago, if you could have asked me to describe my perfect man, here's what I would have said: a teacher. You wouldn't have needed much more explanation than that, because unlike most other jobs, with a teacher, you are what you are. You have a certain personality profile. You have to like what you do to do what you do, because if you didn't you'd be miserable, and I've seen miserable teachers. They are the unhappiest people in the world. Show me a miserable merchant banker, and I'll show you someone who is unhappy but can still afford a Big Mac at the end of the day to cheer himself up.

I like the kind of qualities that teachers have. I've sat through enough dinner parties with my friends from school to know that I don't find the stock market stimulating. I think that the share index is a good term for a pastoral initiative. I want to be able to discuss my work and not be an object of curiosity. I don't want to have to answer stupid questions about whether I've ever been attacked with a knife from people who think that all children are monsters and all teachers are downtrodden saints. And, of course, if we cut to the chase, I'd also like someone to be able to do my marking and provide me with ready-made lesson plans.

School tends to be all-encompassing, especially when you're a young teacher. You're struggling so hard with your teaching that it takes over everything you do. You spend hours in school, your colleagues become your family. Chatting in the pub after work isn't just social, it's therapy. When you go shopping on a Saturday morning, half the kids working on the check-out have essays sitting on your living-room floor at home. You discuss pronouns over your frozen peas. It's easy to see how school can infiltrate every part of your life.

So it's all come as a bit of a shock - not least to me - that the bloke I'm going out with is not a teacher. He is not even remotely a teacher. I mean, he went to school, but that's the sum total of his contact with the world of education. And what's more, he wants it to stay that way. He has no secret desire to become a teacher, however much I subtly leave the appointments section of The TES lying around his flat. Sometimes, I don't even think that he's interested in education. Yes, people like that do exist, and you know what's increasingly amazing to me? They're intensly loveable. I'm experiencing a bit of a revolution in my personal values.

This new relationship is provoking a lot of debate in the staffroom. Is it better to be going out with a teacher, or someone from the other side: a non-teacher? Are there any advantages to going out with an NT? Whenever I watch Star Wars, people from different galaxies who try to get it together always fail miserably. It provides a bit of pathos, but they can't survive in a different atmosphere. Can NTs really understand about form groups who make you cry, or how marking a set of Year 7 stories sometimes has to take precedence over the cinema? Do they realise that you can't just say "sod it" to lesson planning when you've got your Year 11 group desperate to trip you up on a Monday morning? Can you trust NTs to sit uncomplainingly through an excruciating junior play and still find something good to say? Will he show me up at the parents' association quiz night? I have a reputation to protect.

Others are more encouraging. NTs gently remind you that there is a world outside school, and it needn't be a scary place. They prove that not all offices are full of money-grabbing, scheming people, intent on polluting the nation's children with another electronic toy. It turns out that they can do pub quizzes and play a mean game of Trivial Pursuit. "One of the biggest mistakes I made in my last relationship," says one of my colleagues, "was to put school before my boyfriend." Someone else chimes in: "But one of the biggest mistakes he made was not to realise the importance of school." It's a real conundrum.

So now I've got my very own NT, and I've realised that school may be important, but so is he. I'm trying, I'm really trying, to emerge from the chrysalis that is my classroom. I've clicked that teaching may provide part of my personality, but it's not the whole thing, and it's taken an NT to teach me that. As Year 11 keep on pointing out, learning does not only take place in the classroom. Twenty interactions a minute may be stimulating, but sometimes you're better off one to one.

"You're a teacher," said one member of my department. "You're used to new initiatives. Just think of it as a cross-curricular project." Couldn't have put it better myself.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, north London. e-mail:

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