Talking Shop;Problems

26th June 1998 at 01:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you


Last year I began teaching in a large primary school but - as the months have passed - I have been spending more and more time thinking about the headteacher. He is a wonderful man. I daydream about him and look forward to his visits to my class, then quiver like a jelly when he pops in. I think I'm developing a teenage crush. Should I let him know how I feel?


Get a grip. Either you're developing a crush or you're becoming obsessed. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy fantasy to spice up the daily routine but the key thing about fantasy is that to get the most pleasure out of it, it has to remain private.

Your situation has all the classic ingredients of a good movie. New girl (therefore in subservient role as apprentice) joins established firm. Male head of firm (therefore in powerful role as master) is perceived as all-knowing, secure, and, to top it all, good with children. The scene is set for a story that could go anywhere. It's dynamite. The fact is that some people with power and authority exude a kind of sexual charisma without necessarily knowing it.

A good test of the strength of your feelings is to imagine your idol in a role with less social status. Another is to remind yourself of the reason you got the job and the real work that needs to be done in the school. Having said all this, it is of course true that people meet and fall in love at work and go on to develop successful relationships.


I am a co-ordinator for health education. Last weekend, while at a club, I spotted a colleague smoking cannabis. This teacher will be working with me to develop our drugs policy. I'm worried that this person may have the wrong attitude and will be unsuitable to teach the children about drugs. Should I share my concerns with the headteacher?


Teachers are perceived by many as playing a role in society that is beyond the confines of their job description. With this goes a responsibility to the reputation of the profession. On the other hand, what a person chooses to do by way of recreation in their own time should, in most circumstances, be a matter for them. The fact that possession of cannabis is illegal in this country makes the situation more difficult.

However, the reality is that many people use mind-altering substances in daily life - alcohol, anti depressants, nicotine and caffeine - and are not seen as incompetent. You must consider whether what you saw was correct and, if so, whether there is a relevant professional issue that needs reporting. I would also advise that you let your colleague know what you have seen and what - if anything - you intend to do about it.


We have been advised to involve pupils in our school development planning. How can this be done when much of the plan is of no immediate concern of theirs?


Involving children in development planning can mark a watershed in the ethos of a school. Believe me, once you are used to the idea and can see the positive results, you'll wonder why you didn't start the process long ago. Look at the research led by Peter Mortimore and Barbara MacGilchrist of the London Institute of Education, Planning Matters, and work by John Macbeath of Stryathclyde University, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, on school self-reviews that involved auditing pupils and adults.

One way is to let pupils know that the staff and governors are interested in what they have to say and what they thinkwould make the school a better place in which to learn. Using a map of the school and grounds, ask each child to mark the one place they feel most comfortable in and the one place where they feel most uncomfortable or threatened. This could be done with individuals or as a whole-school exercise.

Talk about the reasons for their choices. More often than not, places such as the toilets and cloakrooms need improvement but there will be places in the grounds that also want attention.

The same sort of process can be followed to assess the views of the children on the curriculum. For example, if you want to introduce a writers' workshop, let the pupils know that you are going to evaluate the success of the initiative at a given point and prepare a questionnaire.

Far from planning having little relevance for pupils, you will find that their views - and those of everyone who is involved - will be crucial to its success. All that we say about preparing pupils to be active citizens can be made a reality if we listen to their voices.

Drop Sue a line

See the panel on page 5 for our address and fax number. You can also leave any useful hints for this month's letter writers on The TES Internet's staffroom website at

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