Friday, February 02, 2007

" Notes On A Staffroom Or Two "

I've lurked in many school staffrooms in my time. They vary like the teachers within them.
I've lurked in staffrooms where teachers meticulously wash their own special cup each breaktime, drying their china on linen which smells of their well tended gardens, their houses where windows stay open till dusk; the clean suburban Cheshire air.
I've lurked in staffrooms where sunny natured women flirt prettily with a delighted Head, where teachers in crisp shirts and ethnic cardigans talk excitedly of weekends spent rambling in The Peaks, of visiting daughters in Chorlton cum Hardy or transplanting their purple lobelia to the patch beneath the rhododendron.
And there are staffrooms where the room buzzes, where the Guardian crackles with the Telegraph, where the Iraqi War is fought with vibrant words, the govt devoured in tiny morsels..
And I've also lurked in staffrooms where teachers care so deeply about children, that their nights are sleepless, their faces older than their years. I've watched while teachers search for solutions, plan strategies which make all the difference to the world of a five year old called Jason. I've heard debates about curriculum, quarrels about targets, seen opinions hurled against whiteboards, when words splatter in air and ideas cluster around the kettle, huddle with hobnobs in the biscuit tin.
AND MOST OF ALL, I've admired the persistency of teachers' dedication, the constancy of their opinions and interest.
BUT THEN there are others...
I've been in a staffroom where moody women knit silently in corners and men in sports jackets fiddle in their pockets all lunch hour. I've been in staffrooms where children are scorned for their hopelessness, where parents are vilified, where there are souls leaking meanness of spirit and generous talk never ventured..
And I've been in one where cups were grubby, carpet sticky with dust, where unmarked homework books wobbled in piles on flimsy coffee tables, where blinds stay permanently closed and noone spoke with me for three long days.
At first I sniffed my armpits, studied the soles of my shoes for dog crap, checked I'd not sat in something disgusting. And then I wondered if I'd become invisible. But as I wore a particularly jolly Peruvian sweater (bought inWales) this would hardly be so..
" Do they not speak to supply teachers here?" I asked a timid probationer called Donna.
" Yes" she said " but only after a fortnight"
Eventually, two moustachioed women, Pot Noodle apiece ( ignoring me apiece) plonked themselves in chairs each side, leaning across me to chat together.
" Do you both have a back problem?" I said in a particularly loud serene and well-modulated voice " because that must be the only explanation for all your bending....."
AND THEN, stretching first my right hand out to rub Mrs P's back, I followed quickly with offers to rub Mrs G's. Their faces were a picture. I was never invited there again ( either to the school OR to rub their silly backs...)
I READ, in July 2003, Zoe Heller's brilliant book " Notes On A Scandal". The book is set in a North London school; one of its many assets is its superb staffroom descriptions, hence my blurb above! I read the book in one whole session, at the edge of a vineyard in the garden of a cottage in a village called Ruzici in North Croatia..
AND I SAW the film adaptation this Thursday. It's equally compelling. It stars two beautiful actresses, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and it tells the tale of two women teachers who become consumed by each other's lives. It tells of inappropriate love in several forms, of treachery stalking everyday life...


Blogger Philippa said...

Yes, I've been in a few staffrooms like your descriptions, Jan. In the first school I taught at, in Birmingham in 1979, one end was for the 'smokers', the other end for the 'knitters' whilst the middle section was for the remainder who fell into neither camp. Not sure what one did if you both smoked and knitted! I seem to remember that most of the chairs had that unforgiving sag in the middle and years of coffee stains entrenched into the fabric. It was a really dingy room, poorly lit and with years of notices hanging off the pinboards. I think I preferred to spend my breaks in my classroom.....the conversation with the sixth-formers preferable to that with the twin-set and pearls set! My present staff room is quite a pleasant place, very large and airy, with really comfortable chairs, none of which are 'taken' by any one teacher. We have a fridge, a microwave, a filtered water cooler, some handcream for all to use and some 'non-educational' magazines! How times have changed!

9:34 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Philippa: And I bet the decor in 79 was orange and brown and swirly patterns??
Good to hear you and I enjoyed reading this. And I agree: the majority of staffrooms are much improved.Thanks for calling!

8:36 am  

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