Perhaps soon all teachers will have mobile phones

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Marking won't happen. Lessons won't be taught. Education will disintegrate

I have capitulated and bought a mobile phone. The latest excuse for lateness among my friends is, "You don't have a mobile so I couldn't call you", and rather than reason with such logic-defying nonsense I've given in and gone hands-free. My bank balance is now cash-free as a consequence, but WAR 7, my form, assure me that I have a "really cool" phone. They then spend a period showing me how to use it. This is followed with my giving them a lecture about how I never want to see a mobile phone out in school, and we all go away feeling happy. I have been hoping to gain a bit of street cred in their eyes, but my woeful lack of knowledge of ring tones, games and rude text messages confirms my status as a teacher embattled with technology.

Everyone has a bug-bear; the phone is mine. I resent, as an adult, not being able to make or receive phone calls at work. I have to rely on the goodwill of our secretaries - which is in great supply, I should add - and the staffroom being empty so that I can make clandestine calls. If I'm phoning a parent, I try to pick a quiet time so they won't overhear colleagues slagging off their child in the background.

Why are people so reluctant to trust teachers with the basic amenities of life? With something as big and complicated and grown-up as a phone? We won't misuse it. We won't start calling Australia or ringing sex chatrooms. We'll just do it to arrange important things, such as plumbers or hospitals. We won't spend hours on the phone to our mates - we haven't the time.

Perhaps it's all a DfEE ploy to make sure we have no outside life. Perhaps it's part of a plan to ensure that teachers stay close to their marking. Maybe if we can't make doctors' appointments we'll never get ill. Maybe if we can't ring up to get our cars fixed we'll stay in school forever.

Where there is a phone for teachers' use, it can be impossible to keep any vestiges of privacy. I remember one excruciating call I received from a catalogue company. I didn't have time to get to the shops, so I'd ordered some bras. They lost the order, and rang me at school to confirm what I wante. I had to repeat my size and my specific requirements to an operator who seemed to be hearing-impaired. I was at the phone in the staffroom while a staff briefing was taking place. To this day I can't walk past one department without someone saying, "No, I want the virgin pink, not the whore-ful fuchsia".

My boyfriend likes to give me and his family a running commentary on his minute-to-minute movements. He doesn't understand that I share a phone with 60 colleagues, all sniggering as I take his calls during lunch, trying desperately to pretend that I'm on the phone to a parent while they eat their sandwiches and count the number of times he's phoned in the past hour. The record is five.

So now that I have my mobile, I can nip out to the playground at break and conduct my affairs in rather more private, albeit freezing, surroundings. I'd rather my Year 9s took the mickey out of my calls than my colleagues hear yet another fascinating conversation about what my boyfriend had for lunch. As I talk, I'll feel solidarity with all the other teachers perched in odd places around their schools, mobiles in hand, trying desperately to make calls like normal people. One hides in a cupboard to get some privacy to make his calls.

A mobile in school opens whole new areas of etiquette. That's more for the teachers than the kids, especially my sixth-formers, who think nothing of conducting a conversation with their friends while I'm trying to set up a fascinating group activity. Do you leave it on in the staffroom? Is it acceptable to take calls with your colleagues in earshot?

But sometimes I appreciate being uncontactable in school. It makes your work different, cut off from the usual rushed communication of the outside world. It's the only time I've ever legitimately been able to escape my mum. But, in the end, the outside world wins and I'm back in touch. Perhaps it will spread, and we'll soon be a nation of teachers ready with mobile phones. Marking won't happen. Lessons won't be taught. Education will disintegrate. At least we'll be able to phone for a pizza.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London Email:

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