Talkback

30th October 1998 at 00:00
I'm whiling away a happy 40 minutes, staring into my pigeon hole. It's quite relaxing, peering into an empty space, though my best friend thinks that there's something Freudian about my new-found fascination with holes.

Suddenly, something arrives, something I haven't seen before. At first I'm suspicious, but seeing as I've surely made every single mistake that it's physically possible to make in one institution, I figure that it's safe to go in. Maybe someone finally wants me to be on their working party? It's a piece of paper with figures all over it. Then I realise - I've just been paid.

It takes three Diet Cokes to bring me round. I've never been paid so much in my life. Then again, I've never completed four weeks of continuous work in my life. My bank is going to think there's some mistake. I've become quite attached to that little OD that appears on my statement - I'll feel lost without it. For years, I thought it was a misprint for OK.

Well, let's see who's having the last laugh now, Mr Bank Manager. Everybody else is looking at their pay slips with resignation, but I'm celebrating. I want to enjoy this before the cynicism sets in. No more hanging around the home economics block trying to scrounge a muffin from my Year 7s. I'm going out to buy a real lunch. Then I'm going to buy a bumper-sized pack of Diet Coke and a new red pen. The economic possibilities are endless. I'm in this for the big bucks, I'm an educational entrepreneur. Maybe I could be like Richard Branson and start my own company. I'll call it Verging.

Having been in the classroom for a year, it's a strange feeling to be paid for it now. Student teachers don't get paid anything - other people get paid for tolerating them. I've often thought that this might account for the reluctance of prospective entrants to the profession. But I'm not a student any more, I'm a spender.

I scrutinise my lessons. Am I giving value for money? Should my teaching have an economical slant? Should I calculate value per word? I wonder if I could offer any special deals - two poems for the price of one, maybe, or special-offer texts that are especially short. Maybe I could issue club cards; concentrate for a certain number of minutes and we'll watch my Leonardo - the Classic Educational Clips video. Concentrate for a whole lesson and we'll watch it in slow motion. I won't set work any more, I'll negotiate it. How long should that essay be? Well, why don't you write a figure on a piece of paper, slide it over to me, and I'll tell you if we're in business.

No one ever thinks that teachers could be happy with their pay. My friends approach it with caution. "I'm sorry, Gemma, after you've worked so hard, " says my best friend. "No, I'm happy, it's good. For once, the drinks are on me. Well, drink. The drink is on me."

No one's used to me having spending power. But now I understand why finance is high. Being a teacher implies financial naivete. People presume that you've given up all claim to material satisfaction. They think that I float around dispensing poems and Shakespeare without a thought to how I'm going to pay for petrol. But all this money means that I'm playing ball now - no more financial frigidity for me. Apparently the FTSE 100 isn't a kind of foreplay. I'm going from Bash Street to Wall Street, and I won't get out of bed for less than Pounds 10,000. Or make that an Egg McMuffin.

Gemma Warren teaches English at The Latymer School, north Londonl In her column on October 16, Gemma yearned for posters of London Underground's "poetry on the tube". A limited selection is available only from the London Transport Museum shop, Covent Garden - Pounds 1.50 for single copies or on subscription. Tel: 0171 379 6344

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