Traveller's joy

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
The stress of driving or the strain of public transport in the company of your pupils? Some choice, says Gemma Warren

Faced with the journey to my new school, I have two choices. I can leave by car at some hour in the morning that I'd previously never heard of, battle through the rush hour, listen to infuriating breakfast radio shows, and arrive at school tense and harassed. Or I could have a brisk walk to the bus stop at the end of my road, pay a fare that is vastly less than the amount I spend on petrol, exchange a pleasant greeting with my fellow passengers, and be driven to school, letting somebody else take the strain. Estimated time of arrival: just in time for a coffee before I sweep into registration. Not much of a choice.

Getting the bus means that my fellow passengers are my pupils. If spending the day locked in a classroom with them is stressful, spending the journey together is not guaranteed to make the experience any easier.

Children don't understand that teachers can exist in a capacity other than in the classroom. It is as if we exist in flat pack, and then miraculously assemble ourselves out of the classroom cupboard along with all the other paraphernalia of the school day. To see you on the bus with other commuters, to know that you can survive outside school, is to blow apart certain cherished assumptions. The unaccustomed mental strain might just be too much.

You get the gigglers, who dissolve into laughter at the sight of you without an accompanying mark book and cup of coffee. "It's Miss!" You get the whisperers at the back who think that your hearing doesn't kick in until the class readers come around. "Look, Miss is reading a newspaper and listening to the Spice Girls!" You get the agonising embarrassment of the young lovers who are interrupted by your predatory presence a few seats away.

You get the toady who wants to be your best friend. "Hi Miss! How are you this morning?" And finally the swot, who expects profound comments on their essay at a time when you are still thinking of your cosy bed. Lawyers charge a fortune for this kind of out-of-hours service.

Now John Prescott is looking to abolish the school run. The roads will be clearer in the mornings, journey times will be slashed. Children will get the benefit of fresh air and exercise twice a day, safe pathways will be designated, community spirit will be fostered, public transport will prosper. What a terrible idea. Keep the school run, keep children off our buses and trains. Teachers, children and public transport do not mix - it involves too many complex social interactions too early in the morning.

One of my favourite stories is Hercules, faced with two journeys, one downhill and inviting, one tortuously winding. He chose the tough one, of course. Not many people know that Hercules was really an early PE teacher. Obviously, he was trying to avoid his first class for as long as possible - beware Mr Prescott; even the strongest of us have limits.

Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London

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