I've become a kind of consumer crusader. Anne Robinson would be proud of me - I only wish I could be as scary

16th March 2001 at 00:00
I have to take my car in for service. I book it in for 7.30am and arrive at 7.15. The showroom is open so I go in and ask very nicely if they could check in my car. The man behind the desk raises his eyebrows. I say I'm a teacher and need to be in work early, and the traffic is getting heavier and heavier, and I'm taking assembly so I need to look in the papers to find something with a moral. It is now 7.20. The man behind the desk tells me they are not open. I say the showroom is open, the lights are on, the computers are on, the heating is on, there are a few people around, so surely that means they must be open.

He tells me that although they are open, they are not technically "open" and I will have to wait the remaining 10 minutes until they are. I sit down and watch him drinking his coffee, while he watches me watching him. At 7.30, he is officially open. I am given a car to get me to school. It's called a courtesy car, but seeing as the petrol tank is so empty I can hardly get off the forecourt, it's more like an insult of a car. I fill it up. I sit in the now terrible traffic. I am late for school, I do not find a subject for assembly and so blether on about what I did in the summer and try to give it a moral. I am fuming.

I'm desperate to tell you the name of my very well known car dealer but I'm sure I can't. Let's just say that I didn't exactly see this kind of customer service when they were trying to sell me my car a year ago. As I sat in the traffic I usually avoid, one thing struck me. As a teacher, I would never treat someone like this. I would never be allowed to. Can you imagine saying to parents that, although you are actually in school, you are not technically "in school", and so they will have to come back at a more convenient time?

When I'm in school, time ceases to be my own. If I'm marking, I'll be disturbed; if someone wants me, I'll stop what I'm doing; if I get a letter, I'll try to follow it up as quickly as possible. In short, I think teachers provide the best customer service possible, and it seems we don't get enough credit for it.

Since I've been a teacher, I've become a kin of consumer crusader. Anne Robinson would be proud of me, and I only wish I could be as scary. Basically, I'm fed up. I'm fed up with shoddy service and people who call themselves professionals but obviously don't know the meaning of the word. I'm sick of people who don't have to take responsibility for their work, and who don't give a damn about you unless it comes to taking your money.

I get tired of these people because, as a teacher, such high expectations are made of me. I try my hardest to fulfil them, but this is now only my third year of teaching and the margin for error seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Parents and children don't wait in queues. I'd love to ask a kid to hold for 10 minutes while I play some nauseating music down the corridors and finish reading Hello!

If we're criticised everywhere, don't we have the right to be just as critical of other people? I've decided to start judging other people by the same standards they judge me. So I've started writing letters and saying that I won't hold and don't want to be kept waiting while somebody gets their act together. I've become assertive.

I'm offering my services as a customer relations consultant, because I think that for teachers this could be a real gap in the market. We'll show you how to work under pressure. We'll show you how to deal with requests from all sides at all times of the day, and with being expected to perform at 110 per cent, 100 per cent of the time.

"I'm only human," said one hapless telephone operator the other day. "Well I'm not allowed to be," I snapped back, "so get it sorted." Let's start a campaign. Teachers demand the same service that they themselves give. Don't aim to be the best, don't aim for a gold standard, an excellence rate, a better class of service, or whatever your latest advertising says. Aim to be a teacher, and you won't go far wrong.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. Email: gemmaw@callnetuk.com. She has written a guide for new teachers, published by The TES, pound;2.99. Order from The TES bookshop at www.tes.co.uk or call the shop on 01454 617370

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