Should I have hired the fat supply teacher?

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
I made the decision instantly. We were desperate for a supply who could teach maths and I was prepared to take anyone. But I didn't want Bryn. He's a pretty good teacher. But he's too fat and I didn't fancy the stir he would have made in school. I persuaded myself that I was sparing him the pain of those jeers that children have mastered. I didn't need it. Bryn's presence might give the heads of year a headache they didn't need. So I decided that Bryn didn't need it either.

A full-time member of staff can perhaps turn their size to their advantage and become something of a character. But a supply teacher? When you are nothing more than fresh meat in the maths department? They'd have to be strong to survive. I persuaded myself that I was protecting him, said no and went for someone less experienced.

But why is fat an issue? Perhaps it brings with it suggestions of over-indulgence. Clearly, Bryn had no personal discipline and eats when he should think. All nonsense, of course. But do I want a teacher who carries with them, however unconsciously, such messages? Do I want a teacher who appears to be displaying a self-inflicted wound? But where does this leave me? What is more important? Putting a competent teacher in front of a class, whoever they are, or pursuing a mission as a spin doctor, ensuring that all teachers are perfect role models, cloned images of perfection?

Where does it end? What about teachers who smoke? They can hardly be sending out the right message to our young people. What about those who drink? Teachers are expected to set an example. It is a requirement. But there are dangers in expecting perfect role models. In the end you start looking for angels. And all teachers can ever hope to be are people, with all their potential and imperfections. Nothing more, nothing less. Fat or thin.

What would have been my reaction if the supply teacher had come in a wheelchair? I would have welcomed him or her and cheerfully accommodated their needs. They would be an ideal role model - as long as they didn't smoke, of course. Or drink. But a fat teacher? Sorry, I shall look somewhere else. And in so doing, what I really said was that there is no room for diversity. Today the issue is shape. Perhaps tomorrow the issues will be thought and attitude.

As teachers we are employed to influence the future. I should give children the opportunity to accept people of all shapes and sizes. If anything should be my message, then that should be it. We shape minds and attitudes.

Perhaps in an unseen way I was indeed shaping attitudes. I may have spared myself some grief and denied someone else a day's pay, but it was an act of betrayal. I have always believed that we should teach diversity, tolerance, acceptance. But on this occasion I was a coward and I know I was wrong.

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, is a deputy head in the west of England

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