Within these walls

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Keith Brindle might have a few slates loose, but he's not ready to fall down just yet It's distressing to discover your life has become a metaphor. Yet here I stand: Negative Equity Man.

First, there's the house. "Too good for the area," says the estate agent. "Too expensive. You'll have to reduce it." I tell him my asking price is the same as my mortgage. He asks if I've considered taking out a loan for Pounds 10, 000 and lowering my price by that amount.

I remind him I'm a single parent. And a teacher. He shrugs and wanders off.

Then there's the career. I thought it was going well, all things considered - a few more years as a head of faculty, then early retirement, a touch of supply, sanity and the children. We all know what happened to that idea. I thought I'd have four years left at this point, but last year's changes mean I'm facing another 14. And my current job could cause me to collapse before I'm 60.

But I responded positively. I would go back to doing what I do best - classroom teaching. No timetables to construct, school detentions to take, staff to mentor and support, stock to order, enraged parents to placate, students from other classrooms to deal with. And fewer meetings. It began to sound like paradise.

That was the dream, before I realised it's not just mature entrants to teaching who have problems. "Negative equity's a fact of life," said the estate agent.

Like my house, I've found I'm too expensive for the area: I am at the top of the scale. Not only that, I have too much accumulated clutter. I call it experience, but it represents a closed mind to a head looking to appoint. And since I want time off to continue my work for the exam board, I've even less chance of a new position. I saw myself bringing valuable insights into GCSE English to my new department; perhaps I would just bring problems, with even more supply teachers required.

Finally, like my house I'm growing older and am in need of decoration. After all, if there might be slates loose, who can guarantee the plumbing, the circuitry, the DPC?

In these vibrant times, new property is what people want. They can DIY it to their own specifications and it won't creak when the wind blows. It's easy to sell on when the time is right. No one wants to risk being stuck forever with a relic, picturesque or not. It might start to crumble.

So where does that leave me? Staying put, I guess: looking for scaffolding and shoring up the roof. I'll continue to paper over the cracks.

Keith Brindle teaches in the north-west of England

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