The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A local school, for local people, part 1

I used to have a strict rule never to live in the catchment area of the school I worked at. In fact, if I could live the other side of London, preferably with the river Thames dividing us, all the better.

This antipathy towards out of hours dialogue with students was never shared as strongly by my colleagues, although it's true that few teachers would live in the same estates the children hailed from, preferring the more middle class areas a short drive or cycle away.

I can date my abhorrence of the superstore parent-teacher conference right back to my very first teaching practice as a student, in leafy, suburban Surrey. After a late night in class trying to keep up with my record keeping (I wonder, now, why nobody bothered to stop and tell me that updating a personal diary on the progress, grades, and emotional development of every single child on a daily basis was somewhat more than required...), I decided to pop into Carshalton village before catching the train home to south London, perhaps pick up a bottle of wine to share with my partner.

Walking to the village, I enjoyed the peacefulness, the row of elizabethan cottages, the village pond and accompanying swans. An appropriate end to a day of hard work, I thought, as I stepped into Thresher's to choose a bottle of fruity red Sicilian Sangiovese.

Stepping back out, bottle in its green tissue paper, a stage whisper floated across the street. "She's got wine."

I looked about me. The street was not busy. Nobody I knew was there. Nobody even looking at me.

Shrugging, I carried my wine to the bus stop, to speed up the journey back to the station. Embarking, I moved to my customary seat - lower deck, rear row, on the right hand side, and noticed a few of the students from my girls' school also onboard.
Another whisper: "It's her. / It's Miss."
If David Beckham had been more than a grubby preteen at that moment, I'd have felt like him. I realised now that the whispers outside Threshers must have been from students, unrecognised out of uniform. I laughed to myself about Monday's inevitable rumour campaign that was bound to elaborate upon the alcoholism they'd detected in that one bottle of red. And sat as far back as I could.

Two stops and I was ready to alight. I made my way to the exit. Stage whisper - at least three voices, from two different aisles of the bus, getting louder as the bus shuddered to a grinding, squealing halt.
"She's getting off."
Somehow, it was becoming less 'local celeb' and a tad more Midwych Cuckoo.
I jogged to the station, half expecting to find a net over the entrance ready to speed me off to live inside a Wicker Man.
I resolved then and there never to live on the doorstep of where I worked, to keep my self separate from the character I 'play' in the classroom.

And it nearly worked.