Tour of DutyJanuary 1, 2007
One of the worst traps to watch out for in joining a school is The Break Duty From Hell. Assigning teachers to break duty is, like most administrative tasks in a school, done without planning or forethought. Often it is done on the basis of “what has always been done” and so it is not unknown to be given a break duty that involves overseeing parts of the site that has long since been demolished, built over or sold off. As a result of haphazard planning it is entirely possible for a teacher new to a school, or even new to teaching, to be given the worst possible break duty. Sometimes uncharitable older members of staff will even allow this to happen for their own convenience.
Break duty happens once or twice a week and mainly consists of reminding students of the rules and breaking up fights. As a result it is easier the more students you know by name, and the lower the density of rule-breaking at your location. Key skills needed are the ability to deter rule-breaking before it happens and the ability to confront rule-breaking in such a way that you aren’t forced to do anything to follow it up after break duty. Secondary skills include “ignoring rule breaking in such a way that students don’t realise you are deliberately ignoring it” and “not being anywhere nearby if a fight breaks out or a serious accident occurs”.
At Woodrow Wilson School my duty area was “around the year 11 block”. Not surprisingly this was quite a popular area for smokers making it utterly unsuited to a new teacher who didn’t know more than twenty of the two hundred 15 and 16 year olds that made up year 11. My arrival made little difference to the smokers and so I was torn between pointless confrontations and failing to notice the cigarettes, the children smoking them, or if necessary the entire back of the Year 11 block. Fortunately I had a free period beforehand…, sorry, I mean marking and preparation time, and I soon discovered that if I arrived before they did, the smokers would instead find another area of the school and the responsibility became tolerable.
The following year my duty was in the front of my own block, in broad daylight in the centre of the school. No problems arose, and I was joined by another teacher who had also been given the same easy job and we’d stand around chatting. Getting an easy duty was in effect time off of teacherly responsibilities.
When I moved to Stafford Green School my duty was the canteen. There were actually two canteens, one for years 7-8 and one for years 9, 10 and 11. As ever poor planning was the order of the day, and I, a new teacher and part of the Year 7 team, was given responsibility for the canteen with years 9, 10 and 11 very few of whom I knew. It was also quite a chaotic environment, there were two doors to watch (one for going in, one for going out) and I had to enforce rules about not taking food out as well as having to keep order in the canteen. Fortunately I was paired with a more established member of staff. Unfortunately they weren’t the most punctual of individuals. On one particular day they took over ten minutes to arrive. I did my best by concentrating on the out door. By the time they got there two year 11’s (who I had of course never met before) had pushed over furniture, and it just kicked off from there. A year 10 boy pushed past me. A year 9 boy slammed a door into me. Another year 10 boy threw a football at the back of my head.
Most of these offenders were later identified and told off, however three assaults in one break time (none from students I taught or had previously antagonised) takes its emotional toll. From that point on I refused to unlock the canteen doors until both members of staff were present and as a result nothing similar happened subsequently. However, this seemed to cause some resentment among the women serving in the canteen (perhaps they got paid a share of takings). On the plus side it did seem to result in my colleague being a lot more punctual. This arrangement lasted for over a year, and the following year the senior member of staff I was on duty with was the Deputy Head, Joan Broadacre.
When Joan was there things were far easier. However when she was late and I wouldn’t let the students in they could get quite irate. Eventually she told me to let them in as soon as I got there. By this point I already had a job elsewhere and it gave me great pleasure to say that having previously been assaulted doing that duty on my own she would have to consult with my union if she wanted me to endanger myself like that again. Within a month my duty had been swapped and I was out in the sunshine on the field watching students play football and chat. I didn’t so much as see a smoker let alone have to fight off an assault.
The moral of this story (other than schools are badly organised and you can’t rely on supposedly senior colleagues to do their jobs – which is pretty much the moral of every story on here) is: if you get shafted with The Break Duty From Hell, ask to have it changed, if necessary by kicking up a fuss, because even if you do cause offence it at least shows you actually turn up for duty, unlike half the teacher in the school.