Think you're incognito? Of course not: you're a teacher

You go to a party. You let your hair down. 'Oh, hello,' says the DJ. 'You taught my daughter.' Alex Waite has been there

When you're a teacher, you never know when someone is going to recognise you out in the wider world, says Alex Waite

Most of the time, it’s not easy to forget that you are a teacher. Whether it’s because you’re thinking about a class, a lesson or a persistent problem with particular children, parents or colleagues, it’s hard to get away from the demands of an all-encompassing profession. 

Even our dreams end up being infiltrated by teaching scenarios or some hellish nightmare about children. Freud would have had a field day interpreting the dreams of teachers.

But when you do, rarely, get away from your teaching persona, when you finally find time to unwind, relax and forget about any of your thousands of responsibilities, fate has a cruel way of reminding you that you are a teacher.

Teachers are known to thousands

Having worked in a number of schools across South London, as a teaching assistant, trainee, teacher and now supply teacher, it’s easy for me to forget how many interactions I’ve had with children and parents. 

If you’ve worked at just a few schools, hundreds, if not thousands, of children, parents, siblings and carers will know you and recognise you. If you’ve stood up and presented something in an assembly, helped out with a Christmas or summer fair or taken part in sports day, more parents will know who you are. 

This summer made me acutely aware of how widely known you can be as a teacher. 

A good friend of mine got married just after school had broken up, a wonderful coincidence and one hell of an excuse to let go and forget about teaching. After very much enjoying the day and having just a few drinks over the course of 12 hours to celebrate, I was approached by the groom towards the end of the night. 

He asked me to come to the DJ booth. I was a groomsman, and therefore at the whim of his demands. I obliged, fearing the worst: having to perform some cringeworthy duet. But the DJ gave me a firm handshake and loudly explained over the music how I used to teach his daughter.

At first, in my less-than-with-it state, I stared at him, confused, as he explained who he was. Finally, the penny dropped, and we had a good chat about how his daughter was now coping at secondary school, and what the primary school was like now. 

Not-uncommon encounters

But I was left taken aback by the whole experience. After a few days, it hit me how it’s probably not so uncommon for encounters like this to happen, given how many people would recognise you as a teacher. 

What happened two weeks later summarised this perfectly and this was where it really hit home how so many people will know who you are as a teacher. 

I was retelling the DJ-wedding story to a family member. Immediately, her eyes lit up, almost in disbelief: “That’s so odd. We had a carpenter round last week who knew you from that school as well. His daughter goes there.”

She went on the explain how the carpenter saw a childhood picture of me on the mantelpiece and recognised me as the teacher who always used to cheat at the egg and spoon race on sports day. 

I’m glad my teaching legacy is remembered so well. He did equally well to recognise me as the chubby, freckled, mop-haired 11-year-old, but perhaps I haven’t changed as much as I like to think I have. 

Luckily, both of these parents only had positive things to say. But it also left me slightly conscious about any other times where a parent may have seen me in public as the teacher, even – especially – if they decided not to say hello. 

Alex Waite is a supply teacher in South London

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