Oh Sir, you were awful - but I liked you

24th October 2008 at 01:00

I am fairly confident in saying that - unlike the unfortunate British pair in Dubai - I will never be having sex on a beach. My wife would never stand for it. Furthermore, the inevitable tabloid headlines, "Teach caught out on beach", "Sand, sea and Sir", would lead to difficult moments in the classroom for some time thereafter.

In this respect, at least, I am a typical, dull, modern teacher. Unlike the old staffroom daredevils of yesteryear, our generation has been brought up to be risk-averse. I am sure that illicit staff affairs still happen, but we very rarely get to know about them these days. Everyone is now so disappointingly discreet.

Besides, teachers have so little spare time for such activity these days. Gone is the age when staff could use a coincidence of free periods to head for the store cupboard for a spot of hot-blooded "professional development". There is no such time for idle hands today. When "free periods" became officially renamed "non-contact time", this was more a moral instruction than a change in nomenclature.

Some headteachers used to be no better than their staff. I know of two heads who were so carelessly passionate about their burgeoning love that one of them - in the midst of sorting out her school meals admin - accidentally posted her latest love-letter to her local education office. Meanwhile the object of her passion received the letter she had written detailing the number of her pupils who were entitled to free school meals. Several difficult questions then followed from both recipients. All of which goes to prove that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Inspection teams were sometimes no better. My own charming mother, a primary teacher likened in looks to both Celia Johnson and Ingrid Bergman, once met a perky inspector during a post-lesson debrief. After much irrelevant sweet-talk he asked her to don his hat so he could see how cute she would look in it. It takes a big leap of the imagination to envisage an Ofsted inspector attempting similar today.

Look at your colleagues now. Where are the young flirts or those lewd, ageing Life on Mars characters who openly glad-eyed the NQTs and spoke so lyrically about certain other colleagues? Where, in other words, are the teachers who used to lighten our world by talking a little more on the matter of love and lust and a little less about blessed old "learning"?

Some might respond with a simple good riddance to those seemingly non-pc Neanderthals. But do the careful, repressed emotions of today's staffroom make for a happier workplace? Have those earthier people really disappeared or are we still all there, quietly not risking being seen as unprofessional? I think we all need to open up a little more. We are human beings. We have instincts. So long as they do not offend others nor interfere with our professional work in the classroom, we should surely let them into the open.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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