New boss at work.
Sounding us all out. Carefully. Letting details slip that we grab and clutch at, collate them in corners to fashion a collage of just how much of a disaster this new boss could be.
She asks why I'm leaving, what my new school is like, and I tell her: I'm leaving the career, not the job.
She sounds shocked, asks why. Part of her interview for the job was conducted in the back of one of my lessons: her job was to observe a difficult, 'borderline' class of sixteen year olds in their final term, then share her judgement of my lesson with the other observers cogently enough to persuade she can manage people.
"But you're such a good teacher," she says. Casual, but watching me.
I'm not unhappy at the school, nor am I unhappy with the rewards of the job - which are considerable. But, I explain, if you're good at stretching the minds of brighter children (without torture implements), and effective in dealing with the behavioural challenges of disaffected or illiterate children, then that's what you are asked to do. That becomes who you are. Damage limitation teacher.
"Because you're competent," she agrees. Her eyes look shrewd.
"Yes." My role moves closer to firefighting, and that itself becomes, over time, draining. Drained and washed out isn't good enough.
I point out there that if I become disgruntled with my job and do it badly, there are real life consequences for the children I'm responsible for. That isn't good enough. Half hearted will never be good enough in this job. I play one crystal-teensy part in shaping human identities here; my job is not to be moving units of money.
She agrees. Superficially, she has to agree. The vocational codes that teachers sue to browbeat each other into doing more than is necessary or remunerated sit atop the undercurrents of this conversation, where we size each other up, work out if the next seven weeks will be of help or of hindrance.
Underneath the social gloss of politeness and flattery, I think we've made our real meanings clear to each other. I begin to know who she is. She begins to see who I am not.