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Dread the spread

What does a good teacher look like? If you confine your search to recruitment adverts, today's typical educator is young and shining with health, radiating energy, goodness and wisdom - the love child of Lara Croft and the Dalai Lama.

All publicity images of teachers look as if they should come with a biography that reads: "Jason is 23 years old. He rises at 5am and prepares differentiated resources for four lessons before marking 60 books and cycling to school, where he vaults the playground gates and sets up his classroom into sensory interactive learning zones, in which he teaches back-to-back outstanding lessons. After running several extracurricular clubs, he cycles home to mark, plan and enter data into a colour-coded assessment spreadsheet (of his own devising) before going to bed at midnight with an inspirational quote and a cup of cocoa."

In reality, Jason would have started school in September full of energy and enthusiasm, but by the end of the year, worn down by disruptive children, spreadsheets and missing Sunday afternoons in the pub, he would be heading for Ibiza and planning to retrain as a plumber.

As our workload and stress levels rise, so do the expectations of those above us. Teachers are regularly called upon to "raise their game" and "go the extra mile". This actually means neglecting your family and friends as you sit up until the small hours inputting data. Now that the teaching profession is roughly 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent administration, sometimes we simply can't go the extra mile, because the previous miles have all but finished us off.

Take lesson planning. Even if you know the material backwards, committing it to paper can take almost as long as the lesson itself. I'm not arguing that teachers should go back to planning on the back of a beer mat (I am actually, but we'll pretend I'm not), but some realisation that paperwork could be limited to documents that help teachers to teach would be welcome.

One of our youngest staff members is so snowed under that she asked her mentor if it was normal to spend every evening marking until midnight. "That's the job these days," was the comfortless response.

Why does it have to be the job these days? Did no good teaching take place before it became compulsory to sacrifice every night of the week and 50 per cent of your weekend to paperwork? Who decided that children were better off being taught by someone permanently stressed and sleep-deprived, whose social life is on hold until half-term?

Good teachers are leaving the profession every day because of the pressures of the job, many of which come from time-devouring new initiatives that have little impact. I believe in teachers being committed, but if we are going to sacrifice our social lives, our family commitments and our health, it had better be for something more valuable than a colour-coded spreadsheet.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands, England

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