I trained to be a secondary music teacher in 2000 and started teaching in September 2001. My introduction to the staff room was seeing one teacher say how the Americans had it coming and were to blame for the 9/11 bombings. And other people nodded in agreement. Same day I got berated for using someone else’s mug.
The staff room is a place that some teachers are always in and some teachers will never be seen dead in. In most large schools I have worked in it has been rare to see any of the senior leadership team get a coffee – normally because they actually have a separate machine or even have a budget to get coffees from a coffee shop! Leadership teams seem to have a strange relationship with staff rooms. I think because they don’t use them they don’t see why anyone else would, so I have seen leaders make them smaller or even get rid of them completely. One school I worked in got a designer in and it was a truly awesome room but probably a bit too nice. With a massive TV and comfy chairs it was pretty difficult to do any work on a windy, winter’s afternoon.
Some staff rooms have a constant supply of food because of birthdays and things like “Fat Friday” where everyone brings in something or you take it in turns to spoil each other. If you are trying to lose weight it is probably best to stay away. The staff room fridge is the stuff of legends. Everyone is too polite to take anything out in case it might belong to someone so I have seen some things in the fridge for a year. Milk is a massive issue – ever since Maggie Thatcher’s stint as Education Secretary there has been a lack of milk in the staff room fridge. Thatcher the Milk Snatcher truly left her mark on our schools.
Even in 2006 there were smoking rooms for teacher smokers in some schools. How on earth this was still happening is quite mind boggling. I actually spent quite a lot of time in that horrific yellow cubical although I don’t smoke, simply because the conversation was way more interesting than in the normal staff room. There was this history teacher who smoked a pipe who was fascinating. The kids were absolutely terrified of him and so were most the staff but he knew a heck of a lot about everything.
The seating in a staff room is not as changeable as you might think. I remember sitting on a certain chair in a new school I was at and actually being asked to move as that seat had always been sat on by a certain teacher for the past forty years. You can normally guess people’s ages by who they sit with in the staff room. I would love to say that young and old commune together in harmony and they do in some places but you will often see the usual cliques reside in the usual places and sometimes in a big staffroom will never meet each other. After two months in a big school you realize you don’t actually know their names so you have to avoid them.
The staff room is a place where I have seen news of life and death, wonderful events and horrific circumstances. It’s the place I broke down in tears when I found out my ex-wife was cheating on me and it’s the place I announced my new wife was pregnant. I’ve flooded the staff room by keeping the tap water on all weekend (actually I flooded the school) and I’ve tidied it up and made a staff room library. I’ve nicked books that would never be claimed or read and I’ve given away books that I hope other colleagues will read one day.
If you don’t go into the staff room regularly, make an appearance this week and brighten up your colleagues lives. Leave some home made cookies on the table and a bottle of milk in the fridge. It will be appreciated.