What do teachers do at lunchtime? When I was at school they seemed merely dematerialise, but now I realise that this was probably not the case.
The answer, it turns out, is the crossword. There is a healthily obsessed cadre of puzzlers huddled over photocopies of the crossword in the teachers’ room every day – first quick, then cryptic.
The crossword is not an unusual way to pass your lunchtime. Nor are word games in general. I worked in a school in Rome where the teachers played endless rounds of Boggle. And the Director of Studies played online Scrabble.
This is all natural enough – you will find people doing the crossword (if not playing Boggle) in half a million work places around the country. But it is a little odd in a language school, where the teachers have just spent the morning manhandling words and their definitions, grappling with fine distinctions, and filling gaps. You’d think they’d settle down in silence to a Sudoko or something (as in fact Mike did for a long while – but then he is a rule unto himself).
So why the crossword? A crossword is more socially involving than Sudoku, for one thing: you can shout clues at the photocopier queue, but not strings of numbers. But for another it represents from a certain angle the opposite of language teaching, in that you have to stretch and not contain your vocabulary. You can cheerfully trot off to the most obscure corners of the language, run through half-synonyms, try out antiquated spellings. It is, in its way, the most appropriate form of relaxation for a language teacher.
None of which explains why I dematerialise to the topmost classroom with my laptop and a sandwich. But that’s another story.