What's mine isn't yours

15th June 2012 at 01:00

Sometimes we're asked to do such ridiculous things that I half expect Ashton Kutcher to turn up in assembly and announce that we've all been Punk'd. Take this week. We were busy rewriting schemes of work to incorporate the new Ofsted hokey-cokey ("You put your progression in, take your tangible buzz out; put differentiation in and shake it all about") when we were asked to vacate our rooms so that two blokes in overalls could splash magnolia on our walls while another ate his bacon butties on our desks.

The timing was awful. If the headteacher had invited a kazoo band to march up and down the exam hall during physics AS level it would have been less disruptive. I suspect that his decision was triggered by the same defective time-management gene that makes my husband steam the broccoli while the meat's still in the fridge, or switch the toaster on before disappearing into the downstairs loo with World of Sudoku.

As a result of this, we are now teaching in other people's rooms. It's been a humbling experience. I have discovered that my previous behaviour management ability had less to do with my charisma and more to do with my unlimited access to textbooks, worksheets, DVDs and other key weapons of mass instruction. Now that I have only a dried-up marker pen and a whiteboard that's anything but, my teaching has taken a turn for the worse. Managing boisterous Year 10 lads armed with just a sheaf of lined paper is like trying to bring peace to Gaza by handing out pages from the New Testament.

And everyone else is pissed off with us because they can't get into their rooms to tidy up. Just when they think it's safe to sort out their bulging cupboards, a crocodile of children comes shuffling down the corridor led by a discombobulated member of the English diaspora. We're as welcome as a case of nits.

I can see why we are unpopular. Teaching is a stressful profession; more so because we have so little influence over our working environment. Everything is dictated by someone else: the number of kids in our classes; their end-of-year targets; how often we set homework and collect and mark books. We're even toilet-trained to the bell. And much of our physical environment is managed from on high: the temperature of our rooms, whether or not we can access YouTube and who gets the new roller blinds all lie in someone else's hands. Under such authoritarian rule, it's no wonder that our classrooms take on disproportionate significance. Our rooms are the one thing we can control; take this from us and we sink into alienation and anomie.

This explains why we keep finding insistent notices such as "Please leave this room as you found it" taped to the residing teacher's desk with a map of all movable items, a theodolite, a set square and a bottle of Lemon Cif. "Don't fuck with my furniture" is the real message.

The lab-coat fraternity are equally edgy. Their request that we stop children fiddling with the gas taps has obviously put the kibosh on the head of drama's plans to fill the labs with noxious fumes and get Year 9 to act out the gas attack from Dulce et Decorum Est using jazz hands, thought tracking and a finale of forum theatre.

Their anxiety is understandable. Borrowing someone's room is like using their toothbrush: unpleasant for all concerned and very bad for morale.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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