You can do it

25th July 2003 at 01:00
Susan Macdonald on the perils of the name game

Sometimes it can be the small things that bring you out in a cold sweat when starting a new job. Jane says she remembers feeling so intimidated on her first day that she scurried into the smokers' staffroom because it contained only six or seven teachers. If she had braved the main staffroom, she would have had to face up to the other 60. "I had been working in a very small school and couldn't cope with all those new faces," she says.

"It's often difficult to discover the first names of teachers, but at the end of two days I had just about cracked it with the ones I worked closest to. Then I came in on Wednesday and found they had all changed - the start-of-the-week part-timers had been replaced by the end-of-the-week part-timers. I tried to describe teachers to my children in the hope they would tell me their names. 'That's Ms So and So', they'd say - so I was none the wiser as to first names."

Other teachers probably had little difficulty in remembering who Jane was after her interview. Called in to face the panel, she sat on a chair a little bit apart because she didn't want to appear pushy. After five minutes, the chair collapsed. The interviewers apologised and gave her a cup of coffee. As Jane lent forward to take it, the smart brooch she had decided to wear pinged off her suit into the coffee cup. But she got the job.

In her first few weeks, her strategy was to fit in by playing the village idiot. "I was chatty and helpful, offered to make the tea and coffee and buy the milk. Nine years on, I'm still doing it." Everyone will have their own way of becoming part of a team, and if your way works, that's fine.

After all, getting to know fellow teachers is vital. And nine years on Jane is still sitting in the smokers' staffroom. "Not because I smoke," she says "but because they were the ones who became my friends in a school I love dearly."

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