Working in teaching slowly lowers your expectations. Last term we were let out of an inset 20 minutes early, and I almost fainted with gratitude

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Ah, the perks of power. The endless free periods. The round-the-clock administrative support. The professional development opportunities. Only joking. But the one thing I do have now I have ascended to the dizzy heights of head of department is a free laptop. I can work wherever and whenever I want. Say goodbye to that pathetic excuse of the school being closed. Or it being the weekend. Leisure time is now no barrier to my insatiable desire to work. Seriously though, thanks to Free Laptops for Schools, or whatever it's called - I'm sure the scheme must have a zingy catchphrase - I am now the proud owner of a state-of-the-art piece of technology.

I'm pretty thrilled about this because it sometimes feels that teachers never get anything but grief (at one point I was even providing my own board markers). But compared to my non-teaching friends, I have the worst deal by far. A laptop? Some companies give them out by the bucketload. One of my friends gets a new one every year. Mobile phones, designer briefcases - all in the name of corporate image, don't you know - free dry cleaning, free sarnies and free flights to name just a few choice items. "Free flights?" scoffed one of my friends. "Is that it? I got a free honeymoon out of my firm." She doesn't even work in the travel industry. I never liked her that much anyway.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm only in it for the freebies, but the occasional goody does help oil the wheels that drive your daily toil. My sister-in-law was taken out for a manicure a couple of weeks back, to thank her for all her hard work. Now that's what I call gratitude. But I shouldn't complain. Apparently, new workload arrangements mean we might get one less cover this year. So that will be just 49, then. Working in teaching slowly lowers your expectations. Last term we were let out of an Inset 20 minutes early, and I almost fainted with gratitude. Sandwiches left over from free school meals? Who knows what I might do? Watch out, Mr Schoolkeeper, that's all I can say.

So anyway, enough complaining, I've got my lovely new laptop. I already have a laptop, incidentally, and a PC. Typical that a brilliant scheme to get teachers all teched up comes after we've all given up waiting and spent our own money. But what the hell. It's a free computer. Forget all the endless hours spent persuading my husband to let me spend our savings on a state-of-the-art laptop.

I got my new one home this summer and enthusiastically unpacked it. Might as well do some unnecessary surfing before the hard work starts. Except, of course, it didn't work; something wrong with the start-up system. Or whatever it is that gets you into the thing in the first place. I hadn't been on holiday for 24 hours and I was stressed out. Once I got the start-up thingy sorted, I was ready to enjoy my freebie for real, but it asked for a password. I amused myself for an hour trying out potential passwords. I tried the obvious ones - teacher, password, literacy - and then moved on to the more obscure - crap, rubbish, freebie. You get the general idea. By the end of the holidays, my brilliant new computer was still not working, but I was on first-name terms with most of the lovely men at the call centre. Free computers that don't work. Doesn't that sum it all up? Forget luxury items, give me a soggy biscuit in a staff meeting any day.

Gemma Warren runs a special needs department in a London secondary school.


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