Things I wish I'd known

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Study Sue Cowley's checklist before you enter the staffroom for the first time

* You know the story about the chair, the one that "belongs" to the teacher who's been at the school since the dawn of time? As the unsuspecting NQT lowers herself into it, there's a sharp intake of breath. "I wouldn't sit there," a voice advises, "that's Mr Sturgeon's seat." When you've been at the school for 100 years, you can sit where you like. Until then, ask before you park your bottom.

* At first, your pigeonhole will be a source of great joy. There's something rather special about having your own name on your own wooden slot. But you will soon come to realise that pigeonholes are like dustbins.

They regularly get stuffed full of rubbish and the really important things always sink to the bottom. My advice? Empty your pigeonhole daily. Take each piece of paper and either (a) deal with it immediately, (b) pass it on, or (c) bin it. Beware of the "to do" pile (but that's another story).

* If you're after the best gossip in the school, or simply a good moan, don't imagine you'll find it in the staffroom. Instead, discover where the smokers go at break times. It just isn't sensible to gossip about your colleagues in the staffroom, or to diss the senior management team when a mole could be listening in. It may be politically incorrect to say it, but the smoking room really is the best place to have a good chat. Sadly, it is rare to find a school where one still exists, so the smokers will most likely be huddled outside the gates.

* You know how you have an all-time favourite mug? The one from the year that QPR won the cup, or the one that your pet student gave you on the last day of teaching practice, saying "World's best teacher"? Don't bring it into school; the mug thief will have it before the day is out. So, either bring a mug that is so outrageous that no one would dare to be seen drinking from it, or a supply of ones you don't care about.

* On the subject of mugs, it's known that staffrooms are filled with festering, mouldy, half-drunk cups of tea and coffee. Don't leave your mug unwashed for a week, and then claim that you're conducting an experiment in growing mould. It won't work. Wash up your mug as soon as you've used it.

* Finally, use your staffroom. Taking your breaks is a vital part of getting through the week, and of getting to know the other people who work in your school. Break time is never wasted time.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact:

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