Why did the teacher cross the exam hall?

15th July 2011 at 01:00

The comedians Armstrong and Miller have a running joke that makes fun of teacher recruitment advertisements. If you haven't seen these sketches (though if you are a teacher, you almost certainly have), they show a series of hopeless individuals resignedly accepting that teaching is the last option available to them.

Some teachers were upset by them. One recently asked me if I was similarly offended. My answer was no. Firstly because I have a sense of humour, secondly because the sketches are funny. Humour gives you permission to laugh at the tragic, painful, shocking and boring. As such, it's a necessary tool for surviving teaching. Though teachers are professionally obliged to take the moral high road, there are some things that make the journey more amusing.

The annual national exam period is hated and feared by students, but can be loved by teachers. This is partly because exams are something kids still actually fear. And it's also because - or so I've heard - some teachers spend the period playing a very silly game known as Exam Pac- Man.

The rules are quite simple. While enduring the tedium of invigilation, teachers encourage colleagues to negotiate the right-angled labyrinth of desks and stand next to "the student most likely to ." or "the student I would most like to ."

Readers may fill in their own blanks, but the categories are rarely "pass French" or "teach next year".

A colleague who works a very, very long way from here - yes, that will do - teaches French. Last year he taught a class so hideous that it was referred to within the department as "The Somme". The kids were not allowed pencils or pens for fear they would stab each other - one had nearly lost an eye in a pencil fight. This teacher figured out that the way to keep them from killing each other (or him) was to promise that at the end of each lesson he would instruct them in French insults.

He phoned me the other day. "Today," he said, "boy X told the headteacher to `sucer coq'." "Oh God," I said, "what's going to happen to you?" "Nothing," he replied, "the head was so impressed boy X had learnt something, he's promoting me next year."

Another teacher of whom I have, uh . heard, works closely with an extremely troubled group of boys. As this teacher is homosexual, and doing one of the most difficult jobs in the country, it is a standing rule among his colleagues that for every one of his pupils he gets to say, unwittingly, "I am a big homo", he is bought a pint at the end of the week. He is usually legless by 9pm every Friday.

While none of this can be defended as rigorously professional conduct, it should surprise or offend nobody who has ever worked with other people. And none of it is disrespectful of the students - it's closer to the affectionate teasing that goes on in families. The jokes they make about us, on the other hand .

Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.

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