The Office Staff
Too many teachers seem to forget that schools are not staffed purely by teachers. Often, in a large secondary school, the teaching staff are actually outnumbered by all those other members of staff who make the school what it is: caretakers, dinnerladies, cleaners, lab technicians, IT support, playground supervisors, teaching assistants, reprographics, art and technology technicians, the staff room tea lady, and the school office staff.
I have always found the main school office to be a haven of normality and down-to-earth-ness. The office staff I have had the pleasure of working with have always been funny, charming, self-deprecating, friendly, interesting, intelligent, warm and kind. This is without exception. And it would be difficult to say that about any random slice of the teaching staff. I love the banter of the school office, I love the chats and the laughs. In several of the schools at which I have worked, the school office staff have been great friends and played a major part in my feeling happy at work. It would appear that there is just something about penning a group of adults in to a small office environment that leads to an overwhelming sense of support, loyalty and decency and camaraderie.
As Liz, Kath and others would testify, I have spent a lot of time in the school office – sometimes borne of necessity (having to complete admin tasks, budgets, exams returns, that sort of nonsense) but mainly the reason was to simply socialise with some of my favourite people in the workplace.
So I was absolutely shocked and saddened to learn in my early days as a teacher that my appreciation of them was not a universal. In all of the schools in which I have worked, and in many that I have inspected or supported, the school office staff would tell the same story of being treated like second class citizens. It would appear that there is a certain type of teacher, cancerous to each and every school, who believes that they are floating high above the mere working class office folk. They will flounce in to the office and bark at the underpaid staff, they will look down their noses and ignore any opinions that the secretary, receptionist, bursar or exam officer might have, they will expect (as though it were their unquestionable right) to be served and obeyed. I wish this was not true, but alas alas.
At one school, I heard the unbelievable story of the staff summer party. The invitation to which was, rightly, open to all staff at the school. During the evening, a vicious and insecure member of the teaching staff approached the small group of office staff, who were happily enjoying the evening sun and a glass of wine. She sneerily informed them she believed the party should be for teachers only and they were not welcome. This on top of the snide and hurtful comments from a minority of others about the outfits that the office girls were wearing. The following year, all of the administrative staff refused the invite to the staff summer party. And who could blame them.
I have struggled over the years to work out where this attitude comes from.
I seriously worry about some of the types of people that make teaching their career. It is full of oddballs. And this type of snobbish arsehole just makes the whole environment bitter and tiring. I wonder what it is that makes them feel superior? Is it that they have a degree? I certainly hope not because, and here's a little secret I'm letting you in on, degrees are incredibly easy. Any numbskull could pass a degree. So why isn't this often said? Well, that would be letting the rest of the world know that those of us with a degree (or several) are not actually any better than anyone else. And for some people that would be a scary thing to do because they need the status symbol.
Sitting in a pub recently with a friend, we both mulled over the question of whether people like this enter the teaching profession or is it perhaps the teaching profession itself that makes people like that. Whichever it may be, I can't abide the horrid social divide that some stuck up individuals create in schools.
The office staff are my heroes - even the barking mad, GP-receptionist types.
It is sad that in an environment where we are supposed to be role models to young people, there are those that treat other adults so badly. Every school has these people. If you are reading this and think that they don't, then it's probably you!