Tribes earn their stripes

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Just at the start of the school year, it was dead thoughtful of the Government's FRANK drug service to supply a guide to teenage "tribes", based on research by Dubit. Teachers, after all, grew up when it was only Mods and Rockers, or Punks and New Romantics. A few, nearing retirement, may possibly have been Teddy-boys and treasure an ancient, secret pair of drainpipe jeans. But a worrying number of us are probably old enough to remember a time when it was OK just to be an individual - albeit an unpolished one - and adults did not yet cower in respectful awe at the "culture" of yoof. Some may even naively feel that it is possible for a 16-year-old to like several different kinds of music, and even clothing.

Anybody with such a laughably straightforward mind-set could get dangerously muddled trying to distinguish between Indies and Trendies, Gangstas and Skaters, Goths and Moshers. God forbid that a teacher should use the wrong word or fail to realise that "minging" is not only the opposite of "ba-aaad" (meaning "good"), but belongs to a different tribe altogether. No: let the staffroom pin up the guide, remember never to say "bling" to a Mosher, praise Travis to a Goth or confuse the gold hoop earrings of a female Scally with the i-Pod leads of a Trendy. Let them remember that a Gangsta will not thank you for asking whether the O'Neill hoodie left in the corner is his (only skaters wear O'Neill). Above all, let teachers try not to notice that only two out of 10 categories - "Geeks" and "Sporties" - represent what they would like to think of as a normal pleasant pupil.

However, it is clear that in this democratic age the pupils have equal rights to a guide to teachers' tribes. The Government is no doubt working on it. Secret leaks so far reveal the following categories: Coolcats, Misfits, Tolerators, Understanders, Martinets, Timeservers, Artistes, and Prims. Pay attention, kids: careful study of the clothing, language and behaviour of your teacher will reveal where he or she is (as we yoof commentators like to say) coming from.

Coolcats are obvious. They took up teaching because they liked being leader of the pack at school and don't want to lose touch with teenage life.

Usually male, they dress sharply, hate discipline, and secretly want to be Robin Williams. Misfits only took up teaching because a PGCE year was preferable to looking for a job. They hate it, and only carry on in the feeble hope of getting onto That'll Teach 'Em and kick-starting a media career. They sometimes become inspectors.

Tolerators are gentle souls, in loose clothing, who believe that every piece of idleness or rudeness can be understood in terms of faulty upbringing. Their classes are chaos, and you need never hand in any homework. However, you can learn a surprising amount from them and they do at least like you. Understanders look similar on the surface, but in fact are failed therapists who have a toxic obsession with getting to the bottom of pupils' problems, even when pupils resist analysis and find their caring probings dreadfully embarrassing.

Martinets are the strict ones: when they watch That'll Teach 'Em it is with wistful longing for the days when you could insult and hit pupils whenever you felt like it. They wear terrible string ties, and scowl a lot.

Timeservers are often Martinets who have got weary, and bored with the modern inability to punish children savagely, so they are only staying on to bump up the pension a bit. You can identify them by the gardening catalogue they read during invigilations.

Which leaves the Artistes and the Prims. Artistes are more often male than female; they went into teaching because it provided a captive audience for their repertoire of jokes, funny accents, weirdly inventive classroom games and bursts of theatrically-enhanced rage. Bold boys love them. Timid ones and self-conscious girls are less keen, and prefer the final category: the Prims.

Prims are an ever-growing tribe. Often female, always tidy, they have thoroughly embraced the modern culture of safety, political correctness, written risk assessments, coursework and Sats. They find the literacy hour prescription reassuring, rather than insulting. They do things by the book, never lose books or turn up late, and mark all homework in small precise writing. Ofsted inspectors nod approvingly as they "deliver" their lessons with monotone efficiency.

The trouble is that everyone else in the staffroom hates them, and would like to put nasty things into their neat little salad lunchboxes. But they don't dare. The Prims will all be deputy heads soon.

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