Saving my soul

20th March 2015, 12:00am
Beverley Briggs

Share

Saving my soul

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/saving-my-soul

I was on my way to the photocopier when I took the call. As soon as I answered I knew something was wrong. "Mum's being rushed to hospital - can you meet me there?" Once, a message like this from my husband would have had me dashing straight for the door. But 10 years in teaching has skewed my moral compass; it now drifts towards educational exigency rather than doing the right thing.

I considered my options. On the one hand, my mother-in-law was dying; on the other, I had five lessons the next day and nothing prepared. Could I delay for a few minutes? Because as much as I love my 80-year-old mother-in-law (and I do, enormously), the thought of facing my Year 11 class armed with only a whiteboard marker and a nervous grin filled me with despair.

Work won. I sneaked off to the photocopier and prayed she would outlive three sets of 30 sheets. Fortunately she did. But the incident made me take a good look at myself in the moral mirror.

A few weeks later, my morning drive to work was blocked by an accident. When I heard myself asking the policeman "How long will this road be closed?" rather than "Is anyone hurt?", I knew it was time to quit. I resigned the next day. My decaying personality may have been the result of a debilitating lack of sleep, unrealistic data demands or spending too long on Crossy Road, but none of these excused what I'd become. I was a pedagogical Dorian Gray, all cardigan-ed compassion on the outside as my soul rotted away in a dark attic.

The pressure to perform well in school can make us into monsters. Take the popularity of the IGCSE, which for a little while was the back-alley rat-run to accountability success. With 60 per cent of the marks based on teacher-assisted coursework - as opposed to 40 per cent teacher-free, oh-my-God-they've-even-spelt-Steinbeck-wrong-in-the-title controlled assessment - heads of English departments signed up in droves. Even though, to ratify it, we had to short-change the kids with "literature-lite" - a curriculum containing as much literary merit as a Ukip tweet. In my darker moments, I fear that everyone is doing the same. Doctors who were taught "appendectomy-lite" are handing out Gaviscon to people with failing organs, while dentists who studied "anaesthesia-lite" are drilling into unfrozen gums.

It wasn't easy to hand in my notice. Teachers are the most amazing people I know, but the thought of what's happening in my attic means I've got to go. I'd love to say that I am thrilled with the decision, that I feel like Steve McQueen flying over the fence in The Great Escape, but in reality I feel a bit flat. I worry that, just as amputees still feel their missing legs, my mind will jerk to the clockwork rhythms of the school day for a while to come.

I love education too much to leave it entirely. Like many before me, I'm going down the gamekeeper-turned-poacher route of becoming a consultant. The best thing about my new role is that I get to carry on working with stoical, life-affirming, gutsy people like you but without giving Satan first dibs on my soul. At least, not in the first week.

Beverley Briggs was a secondary school teacher in County Durham

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters