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I can sniff out the “lifers” a mile off . . . scruffy figures, utterly out of synch with the modern world, any style or sex-appeal they once possessed squeezed out of them by years of drudgery, exploitation and poverty. Sebastian Cresswell-Turner.

The students are bad enough, without the creeps, losers, bores and yobs who make up your colleagues. Here is a guide to some of them.

Popular teachers

These are usually young and good-looking. All the other teachers hate them. There are always peals of laughter from their classroom, whose occupants emerge joking and beaming, and hang around outside chatting to them afterwards. They get invited to parties and on all sorts of expeditions. At holidays and after tests they carry armfuls of Doraemon mugs, Britney Spears pencil cases, traditional handicrafts, chocolates, etc back to the staff room, where the other teachers smile falsely and say, “Oh, how nice!” before going off to stick pins in wax dolls.

The way to get back at popular teachers is to suggest in your DOS’s hearing that their lessons are basically pissing about. “Of course, the students enjoy them, but...” Contrast this with your own, somewhat less crowd-pleasing efforts to get to grips with the English language. Inversion with the present perfect continuous may not be a lot of fun, but, boy, have you been teaching it.

ELT bores

These have an ELT diploma and a huge chip on their shoulder because they are not DOSes. They spout jargon at every opportunity and say things like “recent research suggests” your favoured teaching method is a load of crap. Which it probably is. They sound off at teachers’ meetings about Chomsky and other people you have not heard of.

ELT bores are useful if you do not mind being patronized. Ask if they know a game for participle clauses and they will instantly give it to you, along with a lot of unasked-for advice about how to use it.

Prima donnas

These are teachers that the school is very, very lucky to have and if you are not careful they might just go elsewhere. They never do, of course, and you are stuck with their daily whinging about the timetable, the classrooms, the equipment, the DOS, the admin staff, the other teachers, the students, the locals, and the failure of all the aforesaid persons to value them adequately.

Prima donnas either go sick all the time or struggle in with lots of coughing and clasping of the temples. They are worth talking to only if you want to have a good bitch about another colleague.

Old codgers

Some English language teachers are so old, in any other job they would have retired ten years earlier. Some of them are still waiting for a statute of limitations on war crimes, while others have been teaching English in various jungles, swamps and deserts for 50 years and cannot face going back to an old people’s home in Glasgow.

The main usefulness of old codgers is as a reminder that this is what you will be like eventually unless you get out of ELT.


Typically Australian and male, the surfer thinks, reads and talks interminably about surfing. He might refer to another topic, such as the “chicks” and “dogs” at the party last night or how much vomit he sprayed afterwards, but this is rare. Unless you are a fellow obsessive, the two of you will mostly ignore each other.

The good thing about surfers is that in the staff room they make you sound like Oscar Wilde.


At one time in danger of extinction, the hippy population has returned to sustainable levels. They still pursue their traditional pastimes, such as mind-eroding drugs, alternative remedies, barmy religions and tiresome musical instruments.

Hippy teachers are annoying, but harmless. One in every staff room is a bonus, as it provides you with regular opportunities to make witticisms at their expense.


Nobody argues with Scottish teachers. This is not because of their reputation for belligerence, just that none of the other teachers can understand a word they are saying. Their own students can, but nobody can understand what they are saying. If you have to communicate with your Scottish colleagues, it is safest to write them memos.

Students who overlook the crucial difference between parts of a tiny remote European island are forced to sit through videos of Braveheart. They can get revenge by asking innocently before the World Cup, “Which group is Scotland in?”


Australian teachers are a truculent bunch. Even the British do not whinge quite as much or take so many sick days.

They are not exactly renowned for their cultural interests. Their preferred reading is the small print on their contracts.

Oxbridge graduates

In bygone days these would be sent to administer a lonely pink bit on the map, where they would die of typhoid or be eaten by the locals. Since then the pink bits have shrunk. Oxbridge graduates either stay at home in one of the parasitic professions (advertising, stockbroking, the law) or go abroad to teach English.

Their salient feature is a refusal to accept that anyone else speaks English correctly. This is not merely a question of accent. They insist that (for instance) “at the weekend” is right, while “on the weekend” is absolutely, unequivocally, perversely wrong. Proper English is spoken only within a radius of 60 miles from Buckingham Palace, beyond which it degenerates rapidly.

There is not much you can do about Oxbridge graduates, except wait for them to go home to that job that Daddy has wangled them in the City.

American superheroes

These have prodigiously inflated opinions of themselves and their abilities. Complete losers back home, overseas they inevitably outshine the indolent, illiterate, ragged-trousered peasants of whichever impoverished country they are teaching in. They are often competitive about learning the local language, which they speak loudly and affectedly in front of new teachers and tourists.

American superheroes are well aware that English teachers are near the bottom rung of the ladder of worldly success. They have great plans to move into more lucrative professions or start booming businesses. Oddly, these seldom materialize.

Superheroes love talking to you, but never of course about you. Be prepared to do a lot of nodding.

Anal retainers

A familiar figure in most offices and libraries, the anal retainer is rarer in ELT, abounding as it is with dippy hippies who cannot be relied on to post a letter. Nevertheless, there is probably one in every school.

Anal retainers have pristine desks containing an abundance of stationery. This they keep carefully sorted and locked away. Ask them for paperclips and, after a lot of thought, they will give you a crooked, rusty one. They always complete and submit their reports, registers and records on time. Their handwriting is copperplate, their spelling and punctuation irreproachable.

They like nothing better than teaching high-level grammar lessons or TOEFL, preferably fielding grammatical googlies from nerdy students. They go into children’s classes wearing expressions of grim resignation and disdain.

The best way to upset them is to dump clutter on their desks or disarrange the resource files. This will send them into paroxysms of minatory memo-writing.

Non-native speakers

Most of us acquired English effortlessly as children and then did a four-week course in teaching it. Our skills place us somewhere between street sweepers and kitchen porters. Back home we are paid appropriately (ie a pittance), but in many foreign countries we earn the sort of salaries that local doctors and engineers dream of.

Local teachers learned English the hard way. They spent years in dismal classrooms listening to lectures on dangling participles. They know what difficulties face local learners and they can if necessary translate. (Native English speakers are normally too lazy or stupid to learn anything but “Cold beer!” in the local language.)

Needless to say, a local teacher is paid far less than a spotty oaf fresh off the Celta. In addition, they have to put up with a bunch of foreign louts complaining incessantly about the local teacher’s country, compatriots, religion, culture, etc.

Quite how local teachers remain so sanguine is an enigma. They are probably experimenting with poisons in their bedrooms.

The mystery man

Most staff rooms have a mystery man. He sits on his own and rarely speaks unless spoken to. He is never seen outside during daylight hours. Nobody knows anything for sure about his history or personal life, though rumours abound.

Try not to get on the wrong side of the mystery man, in case the rumours are true and he really can kill someone with his little finger.