Anne Thrope (Ms) The dark side of the whiteboard - The lady doth protest too much

10th September 2010 at 01:00

I wish I were middle class. I mean really middle class, not just the marry-an-accountant-shop-at-John-Lewis faux middle classes who pack out Center Parcs in the autumn half-term. I want to be part of the social elite, genetically hard-wired to write thank you letters and travel pieces for The Guardian.

I'm easily impressed by class because I spent my childhood scoffing tinned peaches and Instant Whip, bent over my dad's News of the World, so anything remotely broadsheet has me genuflecting to the floor. I wish I had inherited good furniture and unassailable self-confidence, instead of a sweet tooth and debilitating self-doubt. Class-wise, I seem to belong to a twilight world of amorphous misfits alongside Jaffa Cakes, Frubes and other snack-based diaspora.

Envy drives my obsession with class. Because with middle-classness comes self-belief and the conviction that you are always right. Take actress Imogen Stubbs. Wife of theatre director Trevor Nunn and daughter of a naval officer, she spent her formative years at two of London's elite private schools, St Paul's Girls' and Westminster, before going on to Oxford. As a result of this, and a prudent marriage, her confidence is unshakeable. A few weeks ago, after her daughter Ellie failed to achieve a decent grade in an AS-level theatre studies paper, she took the exam boards to task.

Her Sunday Times article went something like this: "Hello, I'm a very famous actress and I'm married to THE Sir Trevor Nunn. He is more important than even Shakespeare probably. And God. Anyway, he is certainly more important than Ofqual. In fact, he is probably the cleverest man in the universe. And me? I'm very clever too. And pretty. So obviously our daughter is really, really clever and far too original to have to conform to tedious tick-box assessment objectives (AOs). My husband is a world-famous director who ran the Royal Shakespeare Company with one eye closed and a kazoo in his codpiece, yet he only scored a B on Hamlet. Ridiculous! That just goes to prove that A-levels are set by idiots, signifying nothing. Out, damned AOs!"

She completed her tirade by commenting that AOs favour "the diligent craftsman... over the performer. Or - at worst - battery over free range or organic". In a nutshell, if you are a middle class kid who does badly in exams, then you probably haven't eaten enough frozen chicken nuggets.

Such absolute confidence is alien to me. I'm a great believer that anything bad that happens to me is my fault, while everything good comes through luck. So on results day, when I discovered that some of my pupils had performed poorly, my knee-jerk reaction was self-immolation and existential angst. "How could I have let them down? I'm a fraud and I've been found out. I should end my measly existence and let a proper teacher with gingham jam-pot covers take my class." Spot the difference? My students fail and it's my fault; Ms Stubbs's daughter fails because the system sucks. Ay, there's the rub.

It is social background that builds self-esteem, and while Ms Stubbs was mixing with la creme de la creme, I mixed bowls of Dream Topping. As a result, she is convinced that she is irrefutably right - and I still feel instantly whipped.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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