Picture the scene: it's a moonlit night, the end of a romantic evening, and your date is just leaning in to kiss you when you softly breathe the words, "Oh crap, I've just spotted a parent", before pushing them into a bush and trying to act casual.
For a certain breed of parent, there is nothing more enjoyable than possessing some prize gossip about a teacher at their child's school. For them, witnessing a romantic clinch is equivalent to uncovering the Watergate scandal. So you do everything you can to deny them a front-row seat, even if that means throwing your partner into thorny foliage.
If only protecting other elements of your private life were so simple. Pesky parents and their children get everywhere. They tut as they spot you loading your trolley with wine in Sainsbury's or wave cheerily when they see you spilling out of the local club. They probably know your browsing history better than their own. Have you got a Facebook or Twitter account? It's safe to assume that your timeline has been thoroughly trawled for anything juicy.
It's easy to dismiss such intrusions as mere irritations, but unfortunately they could cost you your job - or even, in the worst case, your career.
Being a teacher is a bit like being a celebrity: every move is scrutinised and then exaggerated; wild speculation quickly becomes fact as stories enter the playground news machine. The expectation is that we should be like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way (with no drink or cigarettes).
"I remember thinking that if I was going to be a teacher, I'd better conduct myself appropriately, start dressing like a lady and not have too much sex," says Kat, a special educational needs teacher. "I actually watched The King and I as research for becoming a primary teacher."
But is this really fair? The assumption appears to be that because we work with children, our private lives must be whiter than white. I would suggest that this is not possible, and that we shouldn't be forced to forfeit a personal life for the sake of our students, or anyone else.
He said, she said
If the worst consequence of errant behaviour were mere playground chatter, you might think it worth taking the risk and having some fun. But the consequences can be bigger than gossip. For starters, such infringements can affect your relationship with students. I'm a primary teacher and I know that parents have discussed my life in front of their children, which inevitably influences how students see me. Here are some examples of things I have been asked by pupils:
- "Did you pay for your breasts? My dad says you did." (On a teacher's salary? Don't make me laugh.)
- "Are you single because you're too flighty to settle down?" (Debatable.)
- "My mummy says there's a baby in your tummy because you're looking fat. When is it coming out?" (I was 13 weeks into a high-risk pregnancy at the time, and my husband and I were in pieces because tests had just revealed a high chance of our baby being born with severe special needs.)