As I write at my kitchen table, I can see a pair of pliers, a hairbrush, a lonely shin pad and a random sock strewn around various parts of the room. We had a massive clear-out over the holiday, which involved sergeant major-style orders, labelled boxes and files and assurances all round that, this time, we’d be able to find the pair of gloves in time for the 9am football training on Sunday morning. I’m not holding my breath.
My strategy this year at work involves large plastic folders – one per class, and carefully labelled files for all elements of my leadership. Last year it was boxes. The year before, a series of concertina files. However, the paper piles still creep up, often within minutes of the latest blitz.
I regard the classrooms of many of my colleagues with stunned awe. The paperclips are organised by colour. The homework booklets are clearly labelled and filed by year group at the sides of the classroom. The displays are to die for. There is a full box of tissues on the desk (how does anyone make a box of tissues in a classroom last more than two hours?) and a tasteful air-freshener to tactfully remove the odour of the previous class. They even have a full set of pristine glue sticks to-hand. I mean, WOW!
"No! The orange files!" I protest to my willing class helper, who is hunting out the class folders from the shelf. "Oops. Sorry. They’re yellow…. I forgot." "The animal stickers are here SOMEWHERE!" I mutter as I cut my hand on a drawing pin. "Alicia. Sorry, Aysha – do you remember where we left the learning mats?"
Why can't I be one of those tidy teachers?
My students are patient. One learner has access to the now bursting plastic file. This means she can help herself to any extra help sheets she needs, and I’m pretty certain she relishes being able to admonish me gently on a regular basis. She also feels super-important, which all students love.
Of all my flaws (and my family and colleagues will testify that I have many), this is the professional one that continues to flummox me. Are we born tidy? Do my (quite literally) awesome colleagues have some gene that I do not possess?
You see, I really do TRY. It’s just that something else always gets in the way. In the last seconds of an exciting plenary, would I rather find out who wins the game or claims the merits or comes out with the most exciting description, or stop to (yawn) file the paperwork before the next class comes in?
There’s a serious note here. One factor in my missing out on a job once was that I admitted that I wasn’t naturally well-organised. Wasted resources in the current economic climate are no joke (though they all get used eventually, I promise – even if it means pulling out an inspirational sheet on war and conflict poetry at the end of a French lesson). It means I have to try extra, super-hard not to lose the things that really matter – the assessments and the beautiful homework and the latest point-scores for the all-important Year 7 teams.
Usually, I end my articles with solutions, but this one is an unashamed call for aid. I’d so love to be like my awesome colleagues. Is there a way of doing it that won’t add more hours to an already demanding job? I’d love to hear it.
In the meantime, I’ll keep turning up in odd socks or accidental navy tights with my black dress in the knowledge that my students know that their progress and their quirks and their very own flaws are what get me out of bed in the morning. And that, like all dedicated teachers, I would never knowingly let my flaws get in the way of their learning… but I’m only human.
Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching