The Staff Room column - All human life is there ...

I think it’s fair to say that the whole of life as we know it is to be found in a school’s staffroom.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 29th March 2015, 7:00 pm
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express. p307a436

Just as in the real world, there are the larger than life characters, the extroverts, the eccentrics, the jokers, the quiet ones. On reflection, there are probably more extroverts on a teaching staff than anywhere else – hardly surprising perhaps, as virtually all teachers enjoy a captive audience.

“I’ve got three free periods, but they’re all lumped together,” one teacher remarked at the beginning of the school year. Now, three free periods in a row is most definitely a luxury. So this teacher’s ‘remark’ was somewhat unexpected in the staffroom.

Now, before the mail comes pouring in, I have to explain that a so-called ‘free’ period is anything but. It is an allotted slot of time varying from school to school, which can be used to cover for absent colleagues, used to mark, or to read, or to plan, to set up an experiments, to photocopy or to have a departmental meeting. So actually, ‘free’ is something of a misnomer.

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In this instance, other members of staff pointed out that they would have done almost anything to have any free periods on a Friday afternoon, rather than have to deal with a group of fed up , tired adolescents – particularly years nine and ten - for the last lesson.

As I recall, this member of staff was rounded on and jokingly told to “shut up” – a phrase, acceptable to be dished out to staff, if not to pupils.

So, there are the exhibitionists, those who entertain us all, who make us laugh, even if it is through their moaning, which, surprisingly can make for good entertainment.

These are the Victor Meldrews of the staffroom. There are the characters that can ‘hold forth’ on virtually anything or everything – the clever, the thoughtful and the respected. Then there are the youngsters – those who haven’t yet become jaded and who spend all week working out what their weekend plans will be. Now, they are most certainly a breed apart! They have the same energy as the children.

The staff with extra responsibilities are generally not seen in the staffroom at lunchtimes – far too busy with extra duties, scurrying round the corridors and dining rooms checking up on who is where and dealing with those who need a little more ‘one to one time’.

At various times of the day we collect information from our staffroom and run. Occasionally we hide and take cover, sometimes despite best endeavours and intentions, we gossip; we frequently laugh, and occasionally cry.

Sometimes it’s a room which is just a necessary change of scenery from the classroom in which we spend so many hours of the day, or a place to let off steam. Maybe someone will need to pass on sensitive information, away from the flapping ears teenagers develop the minute there is something interesting to hear!

Strange how those same ears suddenly go deaf the minute really important information is imparted, such as how to form a past participle or how to balance an equation.

I was going to write about our staffroom’s taped up, ancient carpet, waiting-room style chairs and tatty upholstery, and say that despite this, our staff room is still ours. Many members of staff, over the years had berated its shabby appearance, and sometimes strange and musty smell. They had tried and invariably failed to change it, or to brighten it up with art and occasionally ‘new’ cast-off sofas.

Recently however our staffroom has had a makeover. But it still remains a refuge. This is where we sit and share. ‘Just listen to what x has said today’, says one. ‘That’s no surprise at all,’ says another, ‘he said just the same to me yesterday!’ Or ‘Really? He told me just the opposite.’ So many plans are foiled, deceptions uncovered, tall tales shrunk and pupils found out, just through passing on information.

Children often seem surprised at what we know. There is a general feeling that teachers don’t talk to each other. It can be something of a shock when they realise that information does get passed around.

Staffroom life is a very different from when I first started teaching. Twenty plus years ago the staff were a very close knit and tight community, which often congregated in a fug of smoke. On the outside, as a newcomer, it seemed to me that people started teaching in the school and went on to retirement from there.

Now, as in almost every other sector of work, people come and go.

So, the staffroom constantly updates with each new influx of staff. Gone is the static. In its place is a new dynamic – one which perpetually refreshes and changes. At least it keeps us on our toes!