Breathe deep, and bugger off

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Stress, burnout, depression, anomie. When better to contemplate these delights than at the start of a bright, fresh, jolly new year? Educational researchers have been busily making sure that you all cascade into the pit of despond.

Parents may be better at teaching than teachers, a study presented to the British Psychological Society's Scottish conference discovered. If that isn't bad enough, a Warwick University team came up with the devastating discovery that cats and dogs were more important to children than their teachers were. In a survey, teachers "were constantly outshone as a source of support by the family dog or cat".

This - let's be frank - is a disaster, and the pointlessness of carrying on almost makes sense of the extraordinary doings among teachers abandoning the profession. Quitting to work for a firm that sells kinky underwear to transvestites and gay men, teacher Katie Oak confirmed: "Nearly everyone I met going into teaching is trying to leave."

She then claimed, remarkably: "I think I'm typical of young teachers."

Surely not. Is a huge, mushrooming cottage industry in TV or Samp;M underwear extracting young classroom talent in droves, and from what specialisms - craft and design, business studies, religious and moral education? For those determined to stick it out at the chalkface rather than sell knickers, a whizzo scheme to reduce tension among English heidies could prove a big hit north of the border - a hit literally if enraged classroom teachers, delirious with stress, take a hammer to the bosses when, tanned and grinning, they swan into the staffroom after a spot of Ramp;R paid for by the local authority.

More than 200 exhausted English heads have been receiving "free MOTs" in posh seaside hotels at pound;40,000 per weekend, according to reports. The key theme, apparently, is "conquering stress".

After struggling to cope with magnificent slap-up dinners, lifestyle advice and free health checks (before or after the dinners?) they burst into an impromptu performance of "Let's do the Crazy Handjive" (I am not making this up.) They are then invited to sample t'ai chi, Indian head massage, and other delights which are not spelt out.

One gallant head name Ken Clark did have the grace to feel guilty, saying classroom teachers were under as much strain as heidies, and "we ought to be thinking how to reward them".

Don't get excited, please. The reward might just be a cut-price copy of the Scotsman. Yet another research team (fantastic what they do, isn't it?) has discovered that the "perfect solution" for classroom stress is the newspaper crossword, a "daily ritual" which can "take over a staffroom".

(3,4) for a game of soldiers! Its sole stress-relieving power lies in preventing you from having to speak with colleagues you can't stand.

A more remarkable solution to pent-up stress comes from a fantastic scheme actually devised to protect teachers' voices. Sonia Woolley, a leading voice specialist, believes teachers could be damaging their vocal cords irreparably as they grapple with echoing classrooms, noisy children and bleeping computers.

Now, as a parent whose child and her friends are surprisingly intimidated and upset by "shouty teachers", I had hoped Ms Woolley was going to suggest teachers chill out with some whispering, miming and humming - to reduce classroom stress, to save their vocal cords and create an air of quiet, calm expectancy in the classroom. Surely this would lower the tension on both sides.On the contrary, she seems to be revving them up, in the way footballers exercise on the pitch to reduce the risk of pulled hamstrings.

"You would never find an athlete competing without warming up properly, but this is what teachers do all the time," says our instructor menacingly. For a successful warm-up (to some monstrous but perfectly controlled burst of shouting, presumably) teachers should practise breathing correctly and keeping good posture. She recommends "humming, hissing, tongue-twisters and deep breathing on the floor, focusing on the three Ps - power, pace and pitch".

But would a roomful of rowdy rascals really respect a right ruckin' rampot rolling round on the rug? Don't even bother to ask. Keep drinking the Buckfast, that's my advice, and watch out carefully for new research studies into stress, so that you can volunteer immediately. They're bound to give you time off for that.

Sarah Nelson

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