Move closer - it's not as bad as you think

17th January 2003 at 00:00
"Never live near the school where you work, if you are serious about being a secondary school teacher"; "never go shopping in the town where you teach, you might see a student"; "never send your child to the school where you teach". We have all been given such advice at some stage of our career. But does this kind of received wisdom perpetuate a divide that damages everyone's experience of schooling?

An anonymous teacher and exams officer wrote last year (Talkback, September 20) of "the perils of living too close for comfort" to the school where he taught. He described an attack on his car, which he assumed had been carried out by students from his school, and concluded: "If you live where you teach, you will encounter, at the very least, low-level jeering; at worst you may be attacked." I beg to differ. If you live where you teach you become part of the community. Students and parents can relate to you as a normal human being, not as someone who disappears at the end of the day.

For the past eight years I have lived in the centre of the town my school serves. It is an urban comprehensive in an area of high social deprivation. I've taught there for more than 14 years and, initially, like many teachers, lived 10 miles away in a small village and commuted to work. I rarely saw the children I taught outside school. I worked hard, did my job to the best of my ability and was quite happy. Then I helped out at a charity event organised by the mother of one of my pupils, fell in love and got married.

This meant that not only did I move into a new home surrounded by students, ex-students, prospective students and their parents, but I also became a parent and inherited children at the school. Eight years on, with a daughter in Year 13 - whom I also teach - I've never been jeered at, attacked or had my property damaged. I make myself accessible to students and parents just by walking to the shops. My post-16 students are my daughter's friends; they visit her at home and deliver forgotten homework or cheques for visits direct to my door. I realise just how little I used to know about the people I taught. The image I have of them now is quite different, and the relationships that develop are longer-lasting and based on mutual respect, and understanding. Yes, there are limitations to what I can do in public, but they are bearable.

And as the repayment of student loans begins to bite, more new young teachers are moving back in with their parents; they will have no choice but to live near their school. Living near your students can be difficult, but avoiding them outside school is not the answer.

Brian Roberts is vocational education co-ordinator at Hastingsbury upper school and community college, Kempston, Bedford

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