Which school is right for me? Rough? Or Prim and Proper?

You felt like you weren’t good enough. They may have even told you that you weren’t good enough. You may have even believed it. Nonetheless, you proved them all wrong and became a qualified teacher who now needs a job! Take heed of what follows and land a school of your choice, suited to you.

Rough? Or prim and proper?

For all practical purposes, there are two types of school: ‘Rough’ schools (low prior attainment, inner city, challenging behaviour) and ‘prim and proper’ schools (high prior attainment, suburban, impeccable behaviour). You may think you have gaged from your training which type of school you’d prefer, but it’s not that simple: what you think you want may not be what you really want. Allow me to make some accurate generalisations (but generalisations nonetheless) to help you decide.

Are you badass?

It is generally the case that staff at ‘rough’ schools are somewhat more badass than average. What, you may ask, does it mean to be badass?

Well, this a lot easier to explain than it is to define (define, explain- it’s Sunday! Why do I sound like a teacher?!) so allow me to illustrate: A charismatic, quirky, yet badass teacher at a ‘rough’ school was promoting a charity. During an all staff briefing, he gave an amusing yet meaningful speech and encouraged everyone to take out their mobile phone so they could text the 5-digit number to make a donation. When everyone’s phone was out, there was a pause from everyone, including him, until one teacher shouted ‘So what’s the number?’ He then pulled down his trousers and bent over to reveal the 5-digit number written on his boxer shorts. Everyone laughed to the point of tears, and then texted the number to donate £1. To his ass.

At another ‘rough’ school, a bunch of teachers in a crowded morning staffroom were queuing at the photocopier, which was being temperamental. The teachers, eventually bored, somehow got on to the topic of their most preferred love-making songs. Everything from Barry White to KC and Jo-Jo was discussed and chuckled about until one member of staff piped up: ‘I’m not really fussed about the music; if I’m in the mood, I’ll shag to a police siren.’ Killed everyone with laughter.

In the staffroom (a place forbidden to Ofsted inspectors) the use of f-words, taking the piss out of each other, sexual innuendo and political incorrectness are all common place at a ‘rough’ school. Staff will often call each other by surnames and direct, no-beating-around the bush type of talk is common. Much of the attitude espoused is probably a summary product of having to deal with difficult pupils, unreasonable targets, and a relentless leadership team.

The camaraderie is good and staff are usually friendly, sociable (the end of term do or the Ann-Summers themed Secret Santa’s are very entertaining) and good humoured in my opinion. Also, they view fellow staff as teammates rather than competitors. When staff leave ‘rough’ schools, they do so with great difficulty as many lasting friendships have been formed. In short, staff at rough schools are normally genuinely good people who are somewhat rough around the edges.

When you were little your mum probably told you to hang around with the good kids as some of their goodness may rub off on to you (unless of course if you were the bad kid).  The same is true for badassity: The staff at these schools most likely became badass from being around other badasses, namely the pupils. That, or those staff were employed because they were already badass and a ‘rough’ school could benefit from their bold, direct attitude. Whatever the reason, do not assume that staff inherently don’t like working at these schools- they do! (Or at least if they don’t it’s not simply because it’s a ‘rough’ school). 

Is there a reason why you can’t too?


Or prim and proper?

So if the badasses are at the ‘rough’ schools, it only make sense for the ‘prim and proper’ teachers to be at the ‘prim and proper’ schools. In these, staffroom language is a lot less flowery; sexual innuendo and political incorrectness would probably lead to a complaint. Referring to colleagues by surnames would be seen as rude, and asking somebody ‘What the fuck are you doing?!’- when they decided to put yellow paper in the photocopier, ruining your worksheets- would be interpreted as aggressive. Also, don’t even think about getting an Ann Summers present for your Secret Santa as it would probably get you a verbal warning!

While staff at these schools are also friendly and sociable, it is not to the same extent as in ‘rough’ schools. Yes, staff will make small talk, offer advice, support etc. but it is also commonplace for staff to eat alone in their classroom during lunchtime, for staff social events to have a poorer turn out, and for teachers from different departments to ignore one another when passing by. In this case, one may suspect that the attitudes are perhaps due to the lack of siege mentality: there is no reason to build alliances if you aren’t under siege. Yes, targets are also high at ‘prim and proper’ schools and leadership teams can be bullish, but it simply isn’t to the same extent: There is more ‘give’ from the pupils at a ‘prim and proper’ school.

prim and proper

So which one is for me?

It goes without saying that other variables shouldn’t be ignored when choosing a school. I would teach at the most ‘prim and proper’ school in the country over a ‘rough’ school which ‘asks’ staff to do Saturday intervention sessions, and vice versa. I have also known many a staff who while ‘prim and proper’ themselves, are totally indifferent to some of the behaviours described earlier and are happy at ‘rough’ schools.

When deciding upon a school it is important to have a balance of all factors but with the topic under consideration, ask yourself the following questions: Is the conduct of other staff likely to bother me? Do I need friends at work? What kind of sense of humour do I have? Am I able to modify my behaviour if needed? Am I easily offended? Am I cliquey or do cliquey staff need to get over themselves? It’s obvious which answers would point to which types of school.

One final point for your own self-preservation, the famous motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, and I concur, that ‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’

You will become the people you spend time with. So make a wise decision lest your interactions change in a way that you don’t want them to: Most of your waking hours will be spent working.

By Omar Akbar

For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you in training. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99


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