Friday, 10 July 2009

It's the Gnomes, I tell thee

The papers this morning are all over the news that a stressed-out teacher has snapped and put a kid in hospital . I'm not going to say too much about this case, because there isn't a lot I can say without swearing, ranting, and inciting acts of unspeakable violence against people who don't rein in their crotchfruit , but I will say that I'm surprised it's taken so long for this to happen.

I used to teach. It's a thankless bloody job. Not only do you have to deal with vast amounts of paperwork, bureaucracy and constant filing of reports - it's not unusual for teachers to work until midnight of an evening on assessment or lesson planning; not only do you have to put up with a regime of inspection and interference which would have done the Soviets proud; not only do you have to put up with the fact that most Head Teachers are either Blairite apparatchiks on the make, trying to smarm their way into a higher-up job in the LEA, or craven half-men who came of age when it was easier to get into the job, took one look at the kids, and realised they wanted to get as far away from them as possible; and not only do you have to deal with endemic workplace bullying, and the fact that most school governors are the kind of golf-playing, Mail-reading authoritarians who would back these useless heads up if they were found to be penetrating their staff with a broom handle as part of the induction process: you have to put up with all this while having to deal with a section of the population who are, on average, the vilest and most distasteful aggregation of humanity on the planet: kids.

Kids suck, on the whole. I'm not being prejudiced here: people suck, too, but kids suck worse. The general public are a bunch of rude, farting, ill-mannered, loud and aggressive morons with an overly-developed sense of entitlement, but they have at least developed some degree of restraint, even if only based on a desire to avoid a stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure. Most kids haven't developed this restraint yet, and I include myself in that number - however much of a bastard you think I am now, do bear in mind that I was worse as a child.

The purpose of education is, at least in part, to impart this sense of restraint to your spawn, and teachers could do so brilliantly if they weren't held back by too much legislation, snowed under with ludicrous degrees of bureaucracy, and being undermined on every side by an increasingly yobbish popular culture. Even in these difficult circumstances, most teachers manage to do a competent job of it. But that job, however well you do it, is stressful. The culture of targets and league tables, and the relentless regime of inspection combine to put immense pressure on teachers throughout the school. Teachers are routinely worked too hard by management, often to the point where - like Peter Harvey - they break down through stress.

Peter Harvey was, it seems, stressed to the point where he became mentally ill. He suffered a stroke and, when he returned to work after taking time off, he was greeted by classrooms full of little darlings calling him a 'psycho.' Now, after snapping under that pressure, he has to put up with disgraceful headlines like this, in the usually a-bit-better-than-other-redtops Daily Mirror . What we have here is a mentally ill man who wasn't given the right support, who was taunted for being mentally ill to the point where he snapped, and who is now still being taunted in the media by the kind of sackless, half-human scum who pass for reporters and sub-editors these days.

Like people in any profession trying to do a difficult job under stress, a lot of teachers nurture little fantasies that help them get through the day. Maybe they'll win the lottery. Maybe they'll be able to get some kind of LEA job. Tuberculosis is a popular fantasy - not for its romantic poet implications, but because if you get TB you get a year off on full sick pay. Imagine!

Another popular fantasy is the idea of going to teach in a Steiner school . Have to admit I nurtured this fantasy myself. No Literacy Strategy, no National Curriculum, selective admissions and a sort of wholegrain, holistic, hippy-ish educational philosophy? Yeah, I could probably really enjoy teaching in an environment like that, I told myself.

Not sure I'd enjoy the racism, endemic bullying, anti-scientific teaching and batshit obsession with gnomes, though.

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