Recently, I have been looking for my early writings I did for the university course led by Marc Ellenbogen, who I will take the honour to write about later, but I have not found them yet. However, as usual, I came across something else - a diary. Actually, it is not a real account of events or dates or secret information. It is a report of my teacher-trainee observations of the staffroom life at the Gymnázium Ústí nad Orlicí which I completed just before I started part-time teaching there. The text below is a verbatim copy of the diary - a big piece of English homework, I know.
A two-week-long staffroom diary
The staffroom life at the Grammar School in Ústí nad Orlicí rarely changes under any kinds of pressure, in the course of seasons, or difficult tasks and issues to discuss at beginnings and ends of terms. It is in no way closed for students, though situated fairly far from the tumult of corridors. Strangers would invariably have problems finding it if there was not a pair of cheerful and kind students always awaiting guests in the hall. On the other hand, the staffroom is usually so heavily visited during the longest morning break between 9:40 and 10 o'clock that the staff nearly agreed on putting up a sign on the staffroom door saying: “Teachers also have a break!”
20 January 1997 was the D-day I poured a drop of myself into the pond of the old and respectable staff. Each of them has already had the experience of having me at school. Once I used to be one of the students on the other side of the teaching process, but hopefully, I did not use to be one of their nightmares. Throughout a year of working with them, seeing them on frequent staffroom meetings, committees and all those birthday celebrations, I often felt like a fish out of water, but gradually I have become a colleague.
Today, as I am writing this diary, I feel like going back to the holy staffroom and address most of them with a few thankful words, especially my office-mate English teacher who has been extremely kind and helpful during those times at the beginning. Since I work as a part-time English teacher and teach twelve hours a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I will concentrate more on general description of the situation at our school, comment on the state of mutual relationships, and mention typical features of life and habits there rather than report on times, dates, names, etc.
Monday, 8 December 1997. Mondays of this season are very pleasant ones. I saw some smiling colleagues on my way, with snow on their shoulders, and I saw a few cheerful ones in corridors already hurrying with fresh copies for their morning students. On Mondays, the staffroom is usually deserted until 9 o'clock. Then teachers, having just woken up all sleeping faces in their classrooms and made them see they are at school, finally seek the shelter in the staffroom for the first time to breathe a sigh and to share a word about the morning behaviour and to catch up with the latest news and gossips. Or, usually in my case, to rest for a while in one of all-round comfortable armchairs, gather oneself, greet present colleagues, and to let one's eyes rest either on the latest notices on a lot of notice-board space or to browse through a daily newspaper. The weekend is the main issue of all debates on most Monday mornings and the atmosphere is very friendly indeed.
Wednesday, 10 December 1997. Having spent a day off on Tuesday I come to school with a sort of mixed feelings that I have got behind with the latest news. First thing in the morning, I learn from my office-mate that the whole previous day was fairly smooth in its happenings, just an ordinary working day she said. During the big break in the morning, the only time when the break becomes long enough to have a cup of coffee and a chat with a few colleagues, the staffroom remained occupied only by four people. Me, preparing supplementary materials for the next lesson; the deputy, a mathematician and PE teacher eating an apple and talking with a physics teacher on new developments and technologies used in cars; and also another English teacher, seeking a piece of information in Yellow Pages, and trying to get through somewhere on the telephone. In the latter part of the break, we all talked about school Christmas cards which were to be translated into English, German and French and to be posted as soon as possible. A lot of talking and meetings of teachers happen outside the staffroom, especially in corridors, or by paying visits to particular offices. Later, I met two PE teachers on my return from lunch who wanted me to confirm my presence at the basketball tournament semi-finals in the afternoon.
Friday, 12 December 1997, A Teacher Unions meeting was summoned to the staffroom for the big break. Awaiting a boring time talking about things that are likely to make them angry, teachers did not hurry but one by one arrived and placidly took their seats in the warm room. Who could have foreseen what the chairperson had to say. In fact, she came to inform us about the organisation of upcoming events, including a birthday celebration of a respectable colleague, recently being a mayor of a nearby town. But what was of much greater importance, she just plainly announced that there is a school account opened in the local chemist's for everyone to choose a present out of the assortment for two hundred crowns. This announcement brought a few smiles and some astonishment in the colleagues' faces, who got quiet for some unclear reason and concentrated on each of her words to check she was really saying them. After that, the meeting turned into a quite informal one and the talking changed into small groups chatting on either private or professional issues. The atmosphere was very friendly as usual, in fact, the atmosphere in the staffroom seldom gets any farther from being peaceful, reasonable, or working. On the other hand, all arguments taking place here are strictly to the point and searching a way out of everyday problems is always inevitable and immediate.
Monday, 15 December 1997. Going back through my notes on this day, another Monday in the history of this school, I have to admit that it was a fairly eventful day. Much happened during the times I paid visits to the staffroom throughout the day and also a lot took place along the corridors. During the big break, I came to the staffroom not only to observe the situation there but mainly to find an English colleague to ask about the organisation of mid-term school compositions. Therefore, I had little chance to find out what was happening around me, providing something was happening there at all. This time I felt great being among the teachers, in a sort of pleasant humming and chatting. Nobody was laughing at that time but I knew they enjoyed being together very much indeed. And so did I. When I attended the room for the second time to prepare my mid-term school composition topics and to read a part of a new issue of Softwarové noviny, I found myself within a quite different group of people. There were three men of the average age of thirty-one, friends, two PE colleagues and a PC teacher. Their talking and behaviour was far different from formal or the one I experienced before. Then, gradually, a daring thought appeared in my mind and I had to face a fact whose evidence was already proved a long time before in my teaching practice: teachers are more or less ordinary people, with all their rights to talk ordinary things and revealing ordinary thoughts. What is more, and valid for all teachers of the school, they know how to help - they excel in helping both colleagues and students. I did observe that they do not care for their students in just a normal formal way, they take an immense pleasure in talking to them, seeing them, they try to support them with a piece of advice on things of various origins. And so do I.
Wednesday, 17 December 1997. The staffroom was deserted on that chilly foggy Wednesday morning, because all colleagues most likely hurried into their offices to switch on their tiny heaters, which made the temperature rise to at least a bearable level. Having checked the offices, teachers finally found their ways to the staffroom, each caught in the circle of the gradual end-up of the term, and apparently preoccupied with the last settings for the last lessons of 1997. One by one people opened the door either to look for someone, or to enter for other purposes, including the one to make a cup of coffee since the coffee machine just could not bear the heavy pressure of students and broke down for a rest during the holidays. There is no doubt that the pre-Christmas time remarkably contributes to good moods on the students' side as well as on the other. In fact, a sort of subtle irony could be observed wherever teachers met each other, expressing thus a hidden but intense pleasure over an ending term and an approaching time of the holidays and slightly more vividly when teachers passed students in the corridors whose heads were full of various ideas of how to bring this term to an end, replying to their greetings very warmly indeed. This was a time of expectation. Although teachers, each having taught a great number of lessons, and their school experiences would undoubtedly fill a thick book, were aware of students' ability to drive them mad whenever they liked, they did not seem upset at all. The staffroom atmosphere was not nervous and tense. No, it was much closer to a relaxed Christmas one. It was a great pleasure to talk to relaxed colleagues about things outside school and it was an enjoyable time to listen to their speaking.
Friday, 19 December 1997. This Friday was to be the last day of school. Everyone could feel it. Even cooks in the nearby school-canteen felt something very joyful in the air, which in fact brought more pleasure to their work in the morning and much more taste to their meals at noon. Students also felt it. Whenever they had the opportunity they did not hesitate to express their deep true sorrow over the ending year with the help of numerous old and brand new techniques of how to break a lesson. They usually made teachers sing a Christmas or any other song or made him or her at least listen to their singing, or organised competitions and managed to persuade the teacher to include them into the programme. Such competitions were thoughtfully designed to take up the whole lesson. All teachers of the school felt it as well. There was an informal meeting in the staffroom. Teachers were coming in either because they thought it might be a good idea to share the latest classroom experiences and warn present colleagues about very probable misbehaving of students, or just to see them, hear them and relax in expectation of almost anything in the very near future, and to have a cup of coffee or two before the last lesson of 1997 since the coffee machine has recently taken a few days off. After the very last lesson, many smiling teachers returned to the staffroom during the big break. Exciting stories of the last lessons with different classes were passing round the table and final arrangements were made and questions answered about the last school activity of the year: a two-hour-long Christmas concert in a local church. All teachers rested and breathed with relief, unable to talk for a while, because their words were unlikely to express a sort of intense inner pleasure and their minds started celebrating the arrival of one of the holiday time, the Christmas time.
The staffroom life at the grammar school in Ústí nad Orlicí rarely changes under any kinds of pressure, in the course of seasons, or difficult tasks and issues to discuss at beginnings and ends of terms. Though all teachers have their own offices, which they most times share with a colleague of the same subject, they very often look for a company and more space in the staffroom. Once the staffroom was a place of frequent formal meetings but gradually it has become an oasis of peace and rest. The teachers there are my jolly colleagues, they do their everyday work with an admirable effort and responsibility, they hardly ever lose the temper and turn their backs to the students and their mutual relationships are fairly true and warm. They are used to seek help by the colleagues. Never they hesitate to have any kind of word with the headperson or the deputy and they all keep a list of other people's birthday celebrations and rarely miss one to please the others.
Today, I am still as much in love with teaching as on my very first day, 20 January 1997. I am not sure about the other four differences, but one is obvious - I am twenty years older now.