New teachers have always been advised, I believe, to avoid getting involved in talking about other staff. Sounds fair enough. Don't indulge in gossip; just eavesdrop and pass it on later is my maxim.
But the latest advice, particularly if (like me) you're one of those pariahs who has benefited from the Government's financial incentives, is to steer clear of talking about yourself. Don't talk about the pound;6,000 you got for training. Don't breathe a word when you get the golden hello for becoming an English teacher. And don't mention that you're getting your LPB (loan paid backI sssshhhh). Say anything about these and you'll be sitting in the corner of the staffroom alone or with a couple of NQTs from the maths department with salt in your coffee if you're not careful.
This presents me with several problems. First, despite being a beneficiary of all these incentives I, too, think it's damned unfair. Granted, I'm not so upset about it that I signed up to teach history to avoid getting the money, but I can see why people think it's divisive. According to the latest official figures, it has meant a rise in applications for PGCE courses.
But what does that tell anybody? A cynic might ask how many of those applicants aim to get the qualification, teach in state schools for a couple of years, then land a plum job teaching expat kids under a palm tree somewhere. (This doesn't apply to me. I don't go anywhere where I have to take clothes off.) Second, what am I meant to do if the subject of finance comes up? "Hey, everyone," says the head of department, "how about a meal out on Friday? Coming, Fran?" "Er, sorry. Can't really afford it this month." I mean, who's going to believe it? Should I dress down? Pick a few stitches from my jacket and let the thread hang loose? Wear my Bay City Rollers trousers and hope that gives the impression that I haven't been shopping since the 1970s?
Finally, I'm faced with having a major burden of guilt, and yet no time to visit a therapist to talk about it all. Where, in my first year, will I have any opportunity to sign up for a 12-week course of Gitts (gold-digging initial teacher trainee self-esteem) workshops? If I believe everything the doom merchants say, I shall be so busy volunteering for more cover and extra playground duties to try to make people like me that there'll be no time left for anything else.
It can't be true, of course, that there'll be this kind of division between the have-LPBs and the have-nots. I'm sure my colleagues will all be quite happy about it.
But I'll get those tartan trousers out of the attic, just in case.
Fran Hill has just finished a PGCE in secondary English