It's my boyfriend's birthday and I'm under pressure to get him something good. It's the first birthday that we've had together and I feel the weight of his family and friends on me to try to pick something that proves my devotion. Presents seem to be potentially explosive devices in the political battleground that characterises relationships. I'm not sure how to pick something that says: "I really like you (potentially seriously) but I'm still playing hard to get." And I need to do it quickly.
I put my problem to a group of colleagues while we're meant to be working on a group activity on an Inset day. There must be few professions where you have such a diverse group of specialists under one roof, and I've found different departments invaluable when I'm facing all kinds of life crises. They sensibly tell me to list his interests. We do it in the grid that we're supposed to be using to point out the literacy demands in a piece of writing on the Black Death in Europe: Football. Liverpool. Videos of obscure comedies. Strange bits of computer software that I've never heard of. Bizarre sports that even the head of PE hasn't heard of. It is not a stimulating list, and it relies on a lot of expert knowledge that I don't have.
Finally, the head of geography suggests that I get him an old map of Liverpool, the first that would have shown the football ground. It's a brilliant idea. A colleague has a guide to all the football grounds in the country. We find out when the ground was built. My head of English gives me the name of an antiquarian map-seller in London, and off I go and order the map.
All is quiet for the next few weeks until I realise that I am one week away from said birthday, and still have no map. I ring the map shop. It's out of print. They didn't bother to tell me. No, they don't think I'll be able to get it anywhere else. Panic. I am distraught and rush into the staffroom to share my news. We're all concerned. Teachers are planners and preparers; we don't like it when things go wrong. We can't think of any more present ideas. The IT teachers look through some magazines but can't fin a gadget that he doesn't have. The history department suggests some alternative maps. We kick some kids off the internet and try to find the map online. We have a hairy moment when one of my Everton-supporting colleagues finds a map with the Everton ground on it. I get excited before someone points out that you can't give an Everton map to a Liverpool fan. I give up on the whole present idea and wonder how he'd like a box of chocolates and a few sexual favours.
That night, a colleague finds me a list of bookshops in Liverpool. The school secretary lends me the phone and I ring round. The map is definitely out of print, even to a teacher who can get coursework drafts out of Year 11s, but can't get one sodding map of Liverpool. Then, an RE teacher who grew up in Liverpool remembers that there was a small tourist shop down her road that used to sell maps. This was 15 years ago. We rush back to the secretary and my colleague phones her mum. Her mum says, "Hang on" and runs to the shop. She returns five minutes later - with the map. There is a cheer in the staffroom. She promises to send it first class. The art department say that they will make me a frame.
The whole incident taught me a lot about teachers and teaching. We have a "can-do" attitude. We look at challenges and we make them work. We're resourceful and determined and we know how to work as a team. The map is duly framed and wrapped with some paper that Year 7 made in a print class. I'm saved. Every time I look at that map on my boyfriend's wall, I wonder if he knows how many people were involved in getting it. Perhaps, I point out to him, if Liverpool FC knew how to work together like we do, the league would look very different. We could give people a bit of tactical advice, and I'd be happy to accept half their weekly wages. If that hasn't killed our relationship, nothing will.
Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. She has written a guide for new teachers, published by The TES, pound;2.99. Order from The TESbookshop at www.tes.co.uk or call the shop on 01454 617370