The trouble with being a supply teacher is that you are always the newbie. Each time you get another assignment, you have to start at the beginning again. Now I have to be honest with you, starting work at a new school can be a pleasant experience. Some staff will welcome you with open arms and shout,
“Hooray, we’ve finally got someone to teach Year Three,” or even whisper
“Thank Christ, now, at last, I won’t have to do all the planning on my own.
However, not all staff will greet you with warmth and kind words and some will be noticeably frosty. Sometimes of your so-called colleagues don’t even bother to speak to you or find out your name. They know you’re weren’t going to be there for the long haul, so what was the point. That’s just how it was.
The Mother could remember one school in particular where she had not even been allowed to drink from the same mugs as permanent members of staff. Instead, there was a special box containing chipped and cracked mugs just for temps. There were other schools where she’d not even been graced with a name badge or door pass. As for having a locker, well that was the stuff of dreams.
It’s cold inside!
There are a number of reasons why staff might give you a frosty reception. I will not bore you with all these reasons now, but I can say, with a large degree of certainty, the main one is this. When a temp enters a school, staff know that yet again they will need to impart a whole load of information to that person.
Someone is going to need to tell you where the staff room is Where the PE cupboard is. Where the RE resources are kept. Who plays in what playground and when. What codes unlock which doors. Which child has what allergy. Who the Designated Child Protection officer is. Who the SENCO is. Also you’ll need to know who are the hitters, the kickers, the biters, the spitters and the runners, and I’m not just talking about the kids here! Then there is the issue of IT support, and when I say IT support what I mean is the name of the guy (and it will be a guy) who’s going to need to come to your classroom and sort out your crappy, slow computer every week when it fucks up. Don’t even get me started on whiteboards. And it’s not just his name you’ll need. You will have to be informed of the ever changing days and hours he works.
Most importantly and yet most boring of all, someone will need to explain what to do if the fire alarm goes off which it will, frequently. Well, given all this you can see why some staff don’t jump for joy when they saw another fresh-faced temp come into the building, or in her case a tired and jaded faced one!
Given all this, if she had to choose one piece of advice to anyone thinking of embarking on supply work, it was this. Before you even sign up with an agency, never mind set foot inside a school, make sure you are happy in your own skin. It might also be an idea to get yourself a good book because you can bet your life, you’ll be spending breaks on your own, at least for the first couple of weeks, if you even last that long.
Even though you might feel like you fit in well, they’ll always be people there who will go out of their way to make you feel like an outsider. This kind of snobbery can be particularly prevalent among those serving long sentences at the school; worse still, among the lifers.
When you are new to a school, it goes without saying that you begin by knowing very little about the people you work with. You don’t know which members of staff want to solve problems and which ones want to create them. In your first few days, you’ve no idea who can be trusted and who is a total snake. So, eating your lunch alone might not be such a bad thing. Dining solo also allows you to listen and set about finding out the above information. Just think of yourself as a spy, a spy with a good book.
But perhaps even more effective than eavesdropping in the staff room, is ‘learning through banter’ in the pub, and getting an invite is easier than you might think. You may only know two members of staff at your new school, but that’s not a problem. For I have yet to work in a single school where the words, anyone fancy the pub tonight aren’t splashed about liberally on a Friday afternoon. All you have to do is tag along.
You didn’t hear it from me but….
Once inside the pub, once lubricated with alcohol information will flow quite readily from loose lips. What might otherwise have taken several weeks to discover can be obtained without question in one short evening. You’ll learn for example who is happy to lend you their guillotine, as well as how would gladly slice your fingers off if you even thinking about asking for it. A couple of drinks in the pub will gleam a wealth of information about your new place of employment. Most importantly you’ll quickly find out about the personalities and views of the people you work with, which is vital. It is all too easy to assume that everyone who works in Education is going to be fairly open-minded and vaguely left-wing slash liberal. This isn’t always the case as the mother was about to find out.
Alex was a happy and confident five-year-old boy. Although small for his age, his birthday, conveniently was on the fourth of September, making him the oldest child in the reception class. With light blue eyes and hair so blond he could’ve given Rutger Hauer a run for his money, Alex was someone who always got noticed, which didn’t help when it came to his down fall
Now Alex wasn’t a particularly athletic or sporty child, but every morning after the register he came first in the four-second sprint to the dressing up corner. Once there he quickly finds the Blue Cinderella dress, put it on and went off to play. Now it seems significant to mention that once he was dressed for the ball, he would happily build Mobilo guns, wrestled with other boys and occasionally pour out imaginary tea at a teddy bears picnic.
There may be trouble ahead.
From the very first day that the mother had begun working there, she could see that someone had a problem with this. Not with the kids, of course, they didn’t give a shit, but someone did. The Mother could sense the Nursery Nurse was less than happy about the whole boys wearing dresses business, but up until now, had said nothing. That morning however something was different and the mother felt trouble in the air. Trouble wasn’t the only thing in the wafting in the air, I mean, come on 30 kids in one room!
As Alex happily ran around the playground in his frock and tiara, the mother sensed there was trouble afoot. She could feel the tension as Sylvia slowly sauntered over to her, trying to hide the hostility in her eyes.
Here it comes, I’m not
Here it comes I’m not homophobic but….
“I’m not being funny or anything,” said Sylvia, .
“I mean, I’m not homophobic, but if Alex keeps wearing that bloody dress, he’s going to turn into a pansy. “
Ah yes, I’m not homophobic but, I’m not racist but, I’m not a complete fucking twat but.” Perhaps ones of the most overused phrases in the English language. Nestled comfortably between “you know what I mean” and “at the end of the day”
She had to say something, but she also had to steady herself first else she would roar. and the roar would contain abuse, spit, and expletives. Sometimes in difficult situations, people find themselves lost for words; not the mother, for her the opposite was true. She had so much to say; the sentences were literally causing a bottleneck trying to escape from her mouth.
She wanted to tell this abrasive woman that sexuality wasn’t something you picked or opted for, nor was it something you could turn into. Sexuality was part of your make-up, your gene pool. I, for example, grew up to be a 5-foot 5 bisexual woman with dyslexia and blond hair. Furthermore, I can dye my hair, use a spell check and wear high heels to tinker with the logistics of my identity a little, but no amount of gazing into Daniel Craig’s eyes will make me straight. And conversely, I could stair at Gillian Andersons cleavage till the cows come home, but it wouldn’t make me gay. Although I’m not going to lie, it’s not a bad way to pass the time!
But the mother also felt the need to point out that throughout history, men have worn dresses and makeup and the same was true today in different cultures and societies. This ‘cross-dressing’ called neither their masculinity or sexuality into question.
Furthermore, the theatre was littered with examples of men dressing as women. From the Army productions of World War One and Two to pantomime dames and that this was all totally acceptable.
But there was more, like Hello Sylvia have you heard of the sexual revolution? Since then women have been able to wear pretty much anything they liked, and most of the time, no one gives a damn. Trousers, boxer shorts, men shirts, push up bra, no bra, skinheads who gives a fuck, so why couldn’t men do the same.
Then there was the obvious, which should not even need saying. This was early years for Christ’s sake, and therefore children should be allowed to dress up in whatever they wanted to. Girls could be knights and soldiers, so why couldn’t boys be princesses.
There was also of course the fundamentally problem with her statement, which was that it implied there was something wrong with being gay. Otherwise, why worry if someone was, “turned into one. Thank God for the gays I say, they brightened up the town. Also, I can’t help but paraphrase John Cleese here and say, what have the gays ever done for us!!
But most of all, she wanted to say,
“Fucking Pancy, really?” Jesus even my grandma could manage the word homosexual. I mean what was this, the 1980’s. Was Benny Hill going to make an appearance in a minute? Would people suddenly start complaining about the Pxkis again? Were we all going to start accusing the gypo’s of stealing our pegs?
She wanted to say all this but didn’t, and here lay the problem. We are back where we started. For Sylvia had been working at the school a dam site longer than the mother, something she was reminded of daily. She was a popular all be it bigoted member of staff whose friends included everyone from the midday supervisors to the receptionist. Whatever the mother said now would be repeated in the staff room and then spread in whispers across the whole school. But it would be Sylvias version of events, and she knew from experience that her nursery nurse was not averse to telling the odd fairy tale herself.
The Mother chose her words carefully, but it was never going to end well.
“It’s a shame you think that,” said the mother “because that attitude perpetuates the myth that social factors can somehow cause a person to become gay. It also plays into a stereotype of Jamaicans being homophobic, my best friend is Jamaican and gay.”
Um fairly articulate, thought the mother, could have been worse.
But Sylvia had not taken this well. For several seconds the woman said nothing, but then it came,
“And did your friend dress up in frilly girls’ dresses when he was a little boy?
No, not really, He was never interested in all that, thought the mother. Which was a bloody good job really, knowing his dad.
But the mother said nothing, just walked away in the direction of the playground. She couldn’t even be bothered to reply. But she knew at that moment that her days at the school were numbered, as perhaps too were Alex’s days wearing glass slippers and tiaras.
But this story does not end there, although you might wish it did! A couple of weeks later the mother was relaying the whole story to her Nan and Grandad, both of whom were in their 90’s. You may remember reading about the mother’s Grandad (Alfred)some time ago in this blog and if you were paying attention, you might remember of his charming personality. If you don’t, then let me remind you
The mother’s Nan was the sweetest most kind-natured woman you could ever meet. That woman could get along with anyone. Put her down with a tribe in Papa New Guinea, or with the lesbian folk of Hebdon Bridge or even straight into Compton. She’d be cooking dinner for the whole community before the day was out.
“Do you think that needs more spice, bro?”
Her Grandad on the other hand, well he’d be quite at home leading the Hitler Youth.
She was halfway through retelling this tale of homophobic woe when her Grandad butted in, “You know what…” he said. Now the mother was 90 % sure what followed would contain the words, “Gollywog, pikey or a pun on the Brownies.”
She wasn’t totally right, but she wasn’t far wrong either
“You know what,” he said, “You’re actually part of the problem.”
“Really Alfred,” (The mother had given up calling him Grandad years ago because she couldn’t believe she was actually be related to him).
“How am I part of the problem exactly?”
“Well, it’s people like you that stop people like me, from being able to say exactly what they want”
Huh, like that’s a bad thing!
This time it was her Nan that butted in.
“What do you mean exactly Alfred?”
“Well, I’m just saying with all this politician correctness, I can’t even say the word bender anymore.”
“Bender, Alfred really? You’ve never said that word in your entire life.
And you know what, she was right, he never had.
Thank you for reading my article, “I’m not homophobic but”