School staff rooms can be funny places. Remember those days when you were at school, walking past the staff room – that most sacred and hallowed sanctuary of the teachers – hearing a distant buzz
School staff rooms can be funny places.
Remember those days when you were at school, walking past the staff room – that most sacred and hallowed sanctuary of the teachers – hearing a distant buzz of chatter as the teachers discussed the bad behaviour of their students, and catching the feint whiff of coffee and smoke as the door swung shut? Remember those times when you discussed with your friends what ‘really’ goes on behind those forbidding doors or that feeling when you’ve been asked to go and knock on the staff room door and you stand there, heart beating interminably, waiting for what seems to be an eternity before a teacher opens the door, looming ominously over you asking what you want? Yes, as a child I was somewhat fearful of the staff room and wished to avoid it at all costs.
Luckily things change as a teacher. All of a sudden the staff room becomes a calm haven amongst the wild seas of classroom management, a place of fun and laughter, a place in which to relax and recouperate. And no, we don’t discuss homework, targets or lessons. And we rarely mention the behaviour of the students. Well, not unless it’s funny.
I have been lucky enough to work in two schools that have an excellent staff room culture. I say lucky as I have teacher friends who tell me tales of staff rooms that display behaviour akin to that of the playground outside – cliques, bullying, cold shoulders, malicious gossip – and I am pleased that I have never encountered such a thing.
Staff rooms are all different. My first school, Campion, had a large staff room. We had freshly buttered toast at breaktime and a ‘perky partners’ scheme where we left small gifts in people’s trays to cheer them up in the mornings . We had our ‘allocated’ areas – not by force, just where we naturally ended up – Team English sat right at the end on a U-shaped formation of soft chairs, close to the pigeon-holes so we could strike up a conversation with anybody checking for important notices. There was always a packet of biscuits on the table and sometimes we played lame dictionary games which we thought were hilarious.
We would meet in the staff room before classes started, head there every break and lunchtime, sit there during free periods, and on more than one occasion I was still there long after the last bell of the day had rung because not only are staff rooms a good place to relax, they are also a hotbed of scandal and gossip – there is always something going on! I was very sad to leave but greater adventures were calling.
On my first day at BIS Vietnam I arrived early, signed into my computer, wrote the date up on the board and went down to the staff room. For 20 minutes I sat there alone until the bell rang and I went to begin my day wondering if perhaps I had got the day wrong, but no my classes were there. I went down for a drink during my first free period, desperate to compare notes with somebody about my first lesson but all I found was a room full of sleeping guards (a common sight in any unused room in Vietnam).
“People are busy preparing for their first day back” I thought, “maybe tomorrow will be different”. But the next day only brought a staff room as empty and soulless as the one before. And the day after that, and the day after that. A few die-hard enthusiasts ventured there at break and lunchtime but very few.
The only time that the staff room came alive was Friday’s ‘Cake Break’ – an institution that should be compulsory in any staff room despite my expanding waistline! There was a social aspect that just needed to be encouraged. And so for two weeks I waited patiently in the staff room every morning until the bell rang, determined to get people to join me. After a while a few did, then a few more, and a few more. It is with great pride that three years later I could walk into the staff room every morning to a whole room full of people, drinking coffee, eating breakfast and chatting about the day ahead.
The legacy of the Top Table had begun.
The Top Table will be fondly remembered. Lorded over by Mr.Harper, entertained by Mr. Nebbett, Mr. Cullen and Mr.Howell, educated in all things intelligent by Mr.Turner, scandalous by Ms. Blakeman and anything celebrity gossipy by Mrs Berny and Mr Pardoe. And of course anything relating to ‘Cake Break’ being strictly regulated by Ms Green and myself. My final memory of the top table is immortalised by this picture:
I hope that my new staff room can offer the fun and joy that I have experienced in the staff rooms of both my previous schools. So with sadness I bid farewell to the Top-Table – long may you reign!
I will leave you with some pictures of my new staff room, which looks rather like an IKEA showroom. There won’t be any guards sleeping in there but there may be a few teachers 🙂