Yes, I'm a teacher – but I'm also fun at parties

Can you switch off your teacher identity? However hedonistic she might be, Kate Townshend says she is always a teacher

Kate Townshend

Teacher identity: If you're a teacher, does that mean that you're a teacher even outside of the school gates?

Because I don't live close to my school, I quite enjoy the rare experience of children recognising me when I'm out and about – a phenomenon that I suspect quickly loses its charm if being spotted buying pants in Marks and Spencer is a more regular occurrence.

But, for me, there's something a bit lovely about the squeals of surprise and delight that come when children realise you – a teacher! – are allowed to just mingle in with the rest of society at the weekends and in the evenings. There's even something celebrity-like about hearing the shout from across the street: “Miss Townshend, Miss Townshend!” – and turning your head to wave gracefully and give a magnanimous smile.

It's a funny one, though, because in general I don't think of myself as a teacher outside the school gates. Realistically, the slightly swearier, less-responsible version of me is way more fun at parties. 

Leaving the teacher behind

And there's a massive sense of relief involved in being able to drop the endlessly cheerful and competent mask I have to wear at school sometimes. In real life, I get to be the one misbehaving or challenging or sitting quietly at the back. 

And, if I'm honest, I think all of this is quite important. I pride myself on being able to leave “Miss Townshend” behind at the end of the school day. 

At least this is what I tell myself. But what if the children who recognise me as a teacher, no matter what I’m doing, are right? Am I kidding myself, I wonder, when it comes to precisely how separate my identities are? 

There are some worrying signs. For instance, my husband volunteered at a festival last year. One evening, a lost and distressed child popped up. Despite the fact that I had been in full-on hedonistic mode all day, it was pretty much impossible to stop the teacher persona reasserting itself. I immediately put down the gin and tonic and spent the next hour chatting about Sats, school trips and Disney movies, until the parents of the child in question reappeared.

Similarly, I wonder if my husband is the only partner of an educationalist who occasionally has to remind them to “ditch the teacher voice” in arguments. Lots of tricks for managing children’s behaviour are really just tricks for managing human behaviour, and it can be tempting to apply them across the board.

And, if you're asking me to explain something, please don't be offended when I get you to explain it back to me, just to be really sure you've understood.

Blurred lines

So am I a teacher? Or is teaching just my job? Does it matter if our identities bleed into one another? Or should I continue to fight to keep the lines between “teacher me” and “real me” as sharp as possible?

Ultimately, I suppose, I’m resistant to the idea of always being “a teacher”, because it feels reductive. Defining ourselves by our jobs, however interesting or worthwhile, and however much we might enjoy them, ignores the myriad roles we all take on in our lives. 

And, in a job that often demands that we give a great deal of ourselves, keeping something back seems not only sensible but also necessary.

But, though I’m not always willing to wear my teacher costume, what I have come to accept is that some of the traits that make me suited to teaching are innate in all situations. I didn’t flip into “sensible and reassuring adult” when the lost child turned up because I’m a teacher: I flipped because (I like to think) I’m compassionate and caring. And maybe because teaching has developed those qualities in me more than they would have been developed otherwise.

Ultimately, it’s possible to value that part of myself without allowing it to be the beginning and the end of what makes me me.

So, yes, I’m a teacher. But I’m not always a teacher and I’m certainly not only a teacher. Whatever the pupils in the supermarket might think.

Kate Townshend is a teacher in Gloucestershire. She tweets @_KateTownshend

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