I'll be in stationery when you lot are in Bali

15th August 2008 at 01:00

If you'd seen how I bolted out of the school gates on the last day of term, you'd have thought the building was on fire. So if I was that keen for a break, why will my family, throughout the summer, have to drag me from the academic section in the bookshop, the pen display in the stationer's and the work clothes rails in the department store? Why am I not browsing the Stonking Summer Reads shelf or buying itsy-bitsy-teeny- weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikinis? Why am I in the stationer's at all?

Some of these questions are easy to answer. Anyone who knows me will tell you about my all-year-round stationery obsession, especially my penchant for pens. One cringing memory is of my teenager yelling in WHSmith: "Mother, will you stop fondling the rollerballs!" As far as bikinis go, let's just say the last time I wore one, I was seven and weighed what my right calf does now. I've put on so much weight since my wedding that my husband is only legally married to two-thirds of me.

Still, that doesn't explain why I've been buying shirts and trousers for next term and books on Edith Wharton, Christina Rossetti and How To Teach Grammar When You Don't Know None Yourself to be read before September.

Perhaps it's because I'm only a relative rookie (five years in) that I can't stop being a teacher even when I'm not teaching. I'm sure some old hands will have gone home on the last day carrying only a sense of relief and their tickets to Bali, and they'll walk back in on day one not sure where they put the planner they were given. I've told senior colleagues that I can't believe I'll ever be so laissez-faire, and they laugh. One looked at my list of "Things to Do Over the Summer" and asked me why I was carrying something the size of the Pentateuch around with me. Had I undergone a conversion?

I guess it is a conversion in some senses. They say teaching is a vocation. But is "vocation" a euphemism for "inability to relax"? Is this why I feel uneasy unless the summer days are divided into six neat sections with a whole family gathering on a Wednesday between 8.35am and 8.55am? Is this why I wake up at dawn even when the alarm is set for 8am? Is this why, when I do succumb to a Jilly Cooper novel on the beach, I make notes in the margin about her use of literary techniques? (I never stay long on the beach.)

At least I know it's not just me. Any time of the day or night, I can check the TES online staffroom and find plenty of fellow obsessives. Or if I hang around the Teacher Resources section in Waterstone's, they'll be there too. Otherwise, I can loiter in the pen aisle. Anyone else stroking the Staedtlers could well be another English teacher who can't leave off.

Or they're a very strange individual with unusual obsessions and cravings who needs urgent help.

Or maybe both.

Fran Hill, Teacher at an independent school in London.

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