Beware the biscuit-free teacher from hell

27th March 2009 at 00:00

I feel it only fair to begin with a warning: this column is a cake and biscuit-free zone. It is Lent and I have given up such evils. My byline photo may present the illusion that I am happy, but I am in a foul mood, with a headache from lack of sugar, and will be so for the remaining fortnight until the 40 days and 40 nights are up.

I almost gave up chocolate, but my form reminded me that if I'm deprived of my snack I turn into a "Bitch Teacher from Hell" (their words).

My mood is worsened by growing stress about our next inspection. The impending visitors from Ofsted can be sensed lurking on the horizon. If this column were a movie, there would be cawing flocks of ravens rising and flapping like inkblots across a monstrous sky for dramatic effect.

Every staff meeting and training day is filled with lists of what to do and how to prepare. My days are spent in a zombified, cake-free haze rewriting schemes of work and updating lesson plans. I include accelerated learning, personalised learning and differentiated learning. I've got assessment for learning, summative assessment and formative thrown in. I make reference to individual education plans, gifted and talented scores and special educational needs, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyspepsia. (I included the last one to see if you were paying attention).

I worry about the less able, how to stretch the more able, and those borderline pupils lost in the hinterland of CD grades. My worksheets are enlarged for the visually challenged, put on to different shades of paper for the colour-blind and the stress ball is ready for those with attention issues.

I include ICT, sound and vision, still and moving imagery. The interactive whiteboard and I are as one. My seating plan takes account of gender, friendship and bullying issues and I've covered the co-curricular, extra-curricular and extra-terrestrial.

Then, just as I think I have included everything, I read that I need to be considering left and right-handedness. This is as significant as gender, so I stop worrying about failing boys and turn to left-handed girls.

And I do all of that for one lesson and without the support of cake! Why?

We know that education benefits not just the individual, but all of society. Well-educated people earn more, pay more taxes, are more likely to volunteer and to vote and are apparently more productive and happier. Yet the biggest single influence on educational attainment - family background - won't appear on my lesson plan.

Disadvantaged children do less well at school and miss out on the benefits education can bring.

What about social mobility I hear you cry. Well, what about it? Our income gap is one of the biggest in the developed world and social mobility has been falling - under a Labour government.

I think it is now harder for a pupil from a socially disadvantaged family background to move up the ladder than it was when I was young, and I wonder how this has happened.

It angers me that our society has reached this point - and all the biscuits and cake in the world would give me little comfort.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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