There is another world out there - join us

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Teachers' social peripheral visionis too limited, argues Ed Halliwell, writer on sex and relationships . They need to broaden their horizons

In one sense, teachers find themselves in exactly the same position as anyone else who does a job that requires long hours and intense concentration: during the day they're focused on their work, and at the end of it there doesn't seem to be enough time - or energy - to develop alternative social networks. Hospital staff, lawyers, city workers and journalists face the same kind of squeeze, and their most common response is to cut down on searching time and keep relationships within the industry, most commonly congregating in packs after work, drinking themselves stupid and then awaiting the inevitable tongue-swapping. Easy.

But while nobody apart from workplace gossips gives a second glance to gangs of snogging medical students, we are less indulgent when it comes to teachers. Charged with the education of our children, they are expected to adhere to onerous standards of behaviour out of hours as well as in the classroom (especially when there are groups of them together). And as Speed Dater (left) suggests, inter-staffroom copulaters also run the risk of a sustained campaign of pupil abuse, should they be discovered.

Understandably, most teachers think twice or more before hooking up with a close colleague. Online dating with similarly disgruntled teachers from the other side of the country is one answer, although at best is liable to produce a partnership of two overworked pedagogues with no social life, a hefty travel bill and only one topic of conversation.

There is another option, but it does require a leap of imagination. Rather than bemoaning the moral strictures of the staffroom, or seeking refuge in the arms of fellow professionals online and at a distance, why not drop the teacher label entirely when it comes to seeking out relationships? After all, when you were at university, did you confine yourself to dating people who were only studying the same subject as you? Are you only prepared to flirt with people who have the same hair colour? Or who live on the same street? (If you do, I'm really not surprised you're having trouble finding love). Like prisons, schools have a tendency to institutionalise those who spend a lot of time in them, and it can be difficult to realise that there's a world out there that is not regulated by bells, homework and inspections. It may be hard to hear, but it could be that teachers don't find love because they're too wrapped up in being teachers? Start behaving like a human being again, and you've probably got more chance of attracting one.

Of course, long hours, reams of preparation and marking are a drag. But unless you're willing to change profession, or lower your standards, they're probably here to stay. So the issue to grapple with is not how little time you have free, but how you spend what there is. Do you crash out in front of the TV? Chances of finding a mate: zero. Do you hang out with colleagues, moaning about the lack of talent? As discussed, almost zero. Or, do you take every available opportunity to meet people who are not obsessed with keeping up appearances for the sake of school?

It may not seem like it, but non-teachers are everywhere: dance lessons, dinner parties - no, not those thrown by the head of department - sports centres, volunteer groups, comedy clubs, speed-dating events, art classes and special-interest holidays. (You might be chokka in term-time, but think of the relationship-building possibilities if you were to make the most of the breaks!) If you can muster an interest outside of your teaching subject, there's almost certainly a group of like-minded people willing to embrace you, perhaps physically. Free time might be tight, but you do have a choice: limit yourself to the classroom and the sparse pickings it seems to offer, or take your metaphorical mortar board off the moment you're done and grab the opportunities that lie beyond the school gates.

We're out here waiting for you...

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