Talking shop

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you.

Q The teacher in the next class has begun to shout at his pupils - sometimes he is quite rude to them. Now he has taken to confronting my pupils in breaks and lunchtimes. I have seen him pin children up against the wall and really lay into them. I know he is stressed, but we all are. How should I tackle this?

A People cope with stress in different ways. Your colleague seems to have responded in a particularly cruel way by picking on people weaker than himself - classic bullying behaviour, all the more unacceptable for its being directed at pupils to whom he has a responsibility to teach the opposite values.

His behaviour may have already affected the progress of the pupils in his class and if it is not checked it will affect the attitudes to learning of many more.

You must tell a senior teacher or the headteacher about your concerns. You may find that they are already aware of the situation but, if they are, their strategies for dealing with it are obviously not working. The problem is now a whole-school issue and there lies the solution. The reasons for stress are many and varied and not all are due to pressures at school. In any case, the man needs to be told that the changes in his behaviour have been noticed, that they are unacceptable and that his colleagues are there to help him.

By sharing his worries he will find they are made more manageable, and people will understand and be willing to support him practically as he re-learns how to respond to the challenges of the job. As with most things, talking directly with the person concerned is best policy.

Q I've worked in a school office for 20 years and have always had good relations with staff, parents and children. Everyone called me by my married name and addressed me as "Mrs", which I prefer. We now have a new head who uses first names. She has even done this in front of pupils in the office. I have complained to other staff but nothing has changed. What can I do? I'm beginning to hate my work.

A Steady on now, hating your job is a very extreme state to get yourself into when the root cause can be simply resolved.

I'm not saying your problem is insignificant; people's names and titles are very important and should be treated with repect. But you do need to lighten up a bit and understand what is going on.

The new headteacher no doubt wants to make everyone feel relaxed and friendly. The head may have come from a school where the use of first names was the norm, as it is in lots of places.

You must know that speaking to other members of staff is not, in itself, going to resolve the problem. You need to speak to the head privately, describing how you feel and listening to her reasons for taking this approach. It might be that a compromise can be reached whereby your title is used when pupils and parents are around and your first name is used at other times.

By the way, don't worry too much about the children hearing your first name. They will learn very quickly what is appropriate use of language, including how to address whom, especially if they are clearly instructed.

Q I've just started my teaching career and I have to travel about 25 miles to school on public transport.

Each journey is taking me more than one-and-a-half hours as the connections are so bad, and by the time I get home it's very late and I'm fit for nothing. The tiredness is affecting my work.

Although I wasn't asked about travel arrangements at interview, I feel I shouldn't have accepted the job. I thought I could manage but I can't. What should I do?

A Don't resign just yet, although I don't know how you manage, with all the baggage that teachers have to carry back and forth. First, contact your local transport executive and inquire as to the best route for you. But realistically, until the public networks you rely on get better, you're stuck.

You could learn to drive and buy a cheap car or a motor bike, you could see if any car-share options are viable by putting a notice on the school bulletin board, or you could arrange a contract with a taxi firm.

I know a number of people who find this arrangement quite economical when set against the overall costs of motoring. It's like having a chauffeur and you can read and mark books while you travel - sounds rather tempting doesn't it?

Send your problems to sue. write to her at the tES 66-68 east smithfield london e1W 1BX, or e-mail us at You can also leave hints about this month's problems at the Staffroom on the tES website at

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