School is where Elaine's heart is

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Elaine has dedicated her life to the school. She is committed, has a clear idea of what it is all about and a belief that she has a duty to make a difference to the school and the community. A role model.

And yet she causes me great embarrassment. It is her fault that I sometimes look around the staffroom and my spirits sink. I can see my colleagues complaining, moaning about their pay, their job, their workload. But Elaine does more work than any of them, although they all earn more than her. For she is not a teacher.

She works in the school office and is absolutely the heart of the school.

Everyone knows her, electricians, advisers, parents, children. It is difficult to define her job, except to say that she is the cog that keeps the machine running smoothly. Ironing, catering, lost keys, lost money, sick partners, bereavement - everything ends up in her office.

If anyone has a problem, they go to see her. She stops whatever she is doing and listens. She always gives her time to them, no matter how busy she is. They know she will sort things out.

Elaine has an unshakable philosophy, that in all things the pupils come first, and is fiercely protective of the school's reputation. Nothing is too much trouble if it is for the children. She wants them to succeed and believes there are things she can do to make it happen.

When the teachers come in and steal her time she smiles politely and then stays on late into the evening to get her work done. They, relieved of a problem, rush off home at 3.30pm.

She could have done something more significant with her life. She certainly has the intellect and the emotional intelligence. But she has found a place where she belongs. Her office has become a haven of good sense and comfort, the heart of the school. She believes implicitly in the importance and professional status of teachers, even when they do not deserve it.

There are people like her in all our schools. She is a reminder of why we do what we do. Her sense of mission pulls us back on track.

We should never forget how important our schools are to others. As teachers, many of us drive in to work and then away again at the end of the day. But the community stays behind. For them, the school defines and shapes their lives. We need to learn from people like Elaine.

Ian Roe is a secondary teacher in north Wales

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