Gemma Warren tries to develop a hobby

1st December 2000 at 00:00
My boyfriend is a committed Liverpool fan. In fact, committed seems rather a lame way to describe his devotion. He is there for every game, wherever it is, whatever the day, whatever the weather. He sees reserves, the youth team, whatever other teams they have, and he does it all with an unwavering conviction that this is the right way to be spending his time. Most weekends, he drives for 10 hours just to see a game. The only time I've ever seen him cry is when he lost his car keys and didn't think he'd make it to the game.

But complain as I do, there's a bit of me that's a tiny bit envious of this overwhelming devotion. I wish I had something in my life that I felt passionately about - enough to send me on wild goose chases every weekend, spending all my money, engaging strangers in pubs in conversations for hours on end, just because you find that they support the same team. I'm worried, in fact, that I don't have a hobby. I'm worried that my job makes it impossible.

A few years ago, I thought I had interests. Reading. Writing. Going to the cinema. But this doesn't set me apart from the rest of the population. I like normal kinds of music, I read normal kinds of books. I don't think that I could engage strangers in the pub in conversation about anything. Every autumn I buy the latest copy of Floodlight and trawl through it, circling the things that I'd love to be doing. I'd like to learn how to salsa, for example. I'd like to try book binding. I'd like to learn sign language, and first aid, and t'ai chi. I've got as far as sending off for a few brochures but nothing ever comes of it.

The reason why all of this is doomed to failure, I'm convinced, is because I'm a teacher. I'm consumed by work. I spend my free time marking, and I read education books and publications in the vain belief that they're going to give me the perfect scheme of work, or the perfect antidote to a rowdy classroom. I don't have time for interests, for God's sake. I have time for soup and cups of coffee and a pile of marking.

I tried this little role play in my head last week. Imagine the scene, Gemma. You'v just come home from school, you're knackered and it's raining. You've got a pile of coursework drafts to give back, drafts which have taken Year 11 three weeks over the deadline to produce but they want them turned around within 24 hours. You want to talk to your friends, and you've just realised that you need to plan tomorrow's lessons. But no, put it all aside. Forget the marking, the planning, the social life. Get changed and go out and do some kick-boxing. I paused after completing this little visualisation in my head. It's never going to happen.

So I feel boring and utterly convinced that even if a stranger did try to talk to me in a pub, I wouldn't have anything interesting to say. I love reading those features in The TES about the heads who are also Olympic judo contenders. Or the teachers who clubbed together and sailed the Atlantic. Or taught themselves Swahili, or anything else that just makes me wonder: how the hell do they do it? When do they have time? Where do they find the energy? I did a quick poll in the staffroom the other day, and nobody else thinks that they have any interests either. That made me feel a bit better, but is it an inherent part of our profession that we don't have time for outside interests? Does that make us better teachers, or does it make us worse?

My new form are doing talks at the moment where they have to pick an object that's important to them and then talk about what it shows about their lives. I'm amazed at the variety of interests and depth of knowledge among a bunch of 11-year-olds. We've had Japanese stringed instruments, life-size puppets on strings, and a large variety of PlayStations. Next time my boyfriend staggers back from a football match and asks me what I did with my day, I'm going to try to say something more interesting than marking, or drinking coffee with my girlfriends. I just need to find myself a hobby. One that doesn't take any time, effort or energy, and preferably one that you can do while marking. Any suggestions?

Gemma Warren teachers at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north LondonEmail:

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