My financial downfall was discovering resources catalogues. Anything with 'easy to use' on its cover will end up on my desk

6th December 2002 at 00:00
The cost of living is dominating all my chats in the staffroom. Is it best to live in London, or move out? How can you live in inner London but afford to work in an outer-London school? How many management points do you need before you can approach a mortgage broker without him thinking he's being set up by one of those fly-on-the-wall shows? I'm one of the lucky ones whose partner's salary pays for us to get on the property ladder, even if it is the bottom, splintered rung. But I still spend sleepless nights wondering how many unopened bank statements I can stuff behind the sofa without my husband noticing. There are a lot of hidden costs in being a teacher - a financial pitfall I discovered early on in my career. No other professionals spend more on chocolate and biscuits for a start. But what about board markers that come in fun colours? Horrifically expensive they may be, but there is nothing more satisfying than drawing up your spider diagrams in fluorescent pink with orange contrast. My first efforts impressed Year 7, and my stationery obsession had begun. And obsessions can be expensive.

What teacher, drowning under reams of paper, could resist the allure of a multi-pocketed folder that promises to clear your paperwork, and even deal with it? I couldn't. And if you're going to use ring binders, you want them to be in co-ordinating shades of pink and lilac rather than regulation black and blue. Any self-respecting NQT has had the session on the demoralising effect of marking in red. I took this lecture particularly to heart and started specialising in marking books in ink of every hue I could lay my hands on. And don't get me started on rubber stamps. The possibilities of encouraging remarks in funny faces stamped at the end of homework are endless.

I suppose all this is about smoothing the rough edges of this job and making the whole thing less painless. I don't think I'd care so much about the colour of my wallet folders if every office I'd ever sat in wasn't an unappealing shade of grey. It's nice to have surroundings that make you feel you're valued - even if you have to pay for them yourself.

My big financial downfall was discovering catalogues of resources. Any textbook that professes to teach phonics in an unpatronising way that your Year 11s will love is guaranteed to get me reaching for my credit card. Short stories for the unmotivated? Perfect. Teach an entire literacy curriculum in three weeks, guaranteeing high levels at SATs with no extra work for the teacher? I'll have two. Anything that says "easy to use" on its cover is destined to end up on my desk.

They don't tell you about this in your PGCE. They don't tell you that signing on the dotted line with the DfES will lead to your spending thousands on obscure items of stationery and reference books. I know why teachers can't get on the property ladder: it's because they can't afford a house that would fit in all these surreptitiously bought materials, all promising to make their lives easier. Discovering inspection copies was the worst thing that happened to me. Once you've got a lovely new textbook sitting on your desk that promises to teach persuasive writing to reluctant Year 10s, meet all your key stage 3 literacy objectives, and re-vamp your love life, it seems rude to send it back. Doesn't it?

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email:

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