No more gluhwein and mung beans

13th January 2006 at 00:00
It's the first full staff meeting of the new year and we all sit in two horseshoe-shaped rows facing the headteacher. We have around 100 children at our school and nearly as many staff. I often think it might make life a lot easier if we all just picked a child, took them home and be done with it. But here we all are at the beginning of a brand new year. One hundred staff. What sort of Christmases have they all had?

Of the 100 people aged between 18 and 67 there will be people sitting here who may be worried about their marriages, their teenage son's drug habit, the lump they've just discovered, the ill health of their parents or an academic assignment that seems just too hard. They could have come to school this morning following a liaison with a secret lover, an argument with their daughter, the arrival of a credit card bill that they don't know how they're going to pay, or a healthy walk they've vowed to take every day as part of their new fitness regime.

We've all had two weeks with our families when we're known by our proper names, or as "Mum" or "Love", not as the ICT support, the deputy, Ingrid the Physio, Jenny-in-the-office or Caretaker Chris. Some may have found being themselves, at home, difficult. Maybe some of our wonderful and responsible young teaching assistants are outgrowing living with their parents and had a Christmas where they reverted to childish tantrums and fallings-out with siblings. Others may be finding coming back to work hard; they might have shone as domestic goddesses, pulling turkey dinners, gluehwein and crisp white linen out of the air, and are coming in to work under a line manager who doesn't let them set out the children's snack table without a written plan. They could have fallen in love at a Christmas party and have their minds on nothing else but their paramour. They could have had a life-changing experience at new year; a decision to leave a marriage, a child conceived, a spiritual awakening or bereavement.

Whatever, we're all here.

The children will be in soon and then everyone's focus will begin to change. We all have a role, and while yesterday we were living in our houses (rather than visiting them each evening for a meal and then crashing out), and having coffee breaks with hot coffee, inviting friends round, watching daytime television and sprouting mung beans, today we are bound by the school bell, the timetable, and the building. The head is welcoming us all and wishing us a good half-term. She is attempting to motivate and focus us (and I wonder what sort of Christmas she has had?) and the staff listen, supportive and eager. I watch their faces as they morph into work mode. It may not be right, but sometimes I love them like family.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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