Call time on this workaholic ethic

17th March 2000 at 00:00
Looking busy all the time does not equate with doing a good job, and teachers have more important things to do than work photocopiers, says Paul Lamarra

Workaholism is a highly prized character flaw in today's society. In education it has metamorphosed into a virtue - you can safely assume you are destined for the top if the accusation "workaholic" is ever fired at you. The phenomenon is growing, as is presentee-ism, the practice of staying behind to absurd hours just so that it is known you are working harder than everyone else. At one time you were viewed as competent if you performed tasks in the time available.

An ever-growing cohort of eager young suits and sycophants that are forming the ranks of the major political parties is setting the tone. These are men and women who eat and sleep party policy. A young male politician was recently quoted in a newspaper as saying: "There is nothing else that I would work to three in the morning for."

This is all very well for new streamline super politicians with minimum personal baggage and gargantuan ambition and rewards to match. But it is one form of trickle-down that seems to be working.

No one nowadays is doing enough. In teaching, our holidays are too long, our hours are too short. A pound of flesh and more is expected from each one of us. The Educational Institute of Scotland has managed, unnoticed by most of the membership, to pull off a coup in persuading those very politicians that workload must be addressed by the McCrone committee. Will McCrone be the wise and learned judge the profession hopes for when arbitrating on teacher workload?

It is not necessary to describe here what goes into the teaching day but suffice it to say there are few jobs that require so much preparation before the work can even be embarked upon.

A settled period for education is paramount so that the teacher no longer has to spend incredible hours producing materials for new courses that publishers haven't managed to keep up with. It is crshing to morale to find that all those hours are for nothing when the goal posts are moved onto another pitch. There are many tasks undertaken by teachers that could be performed so much better and efficiently by support staff and administration staff, such as stock control, software librarianship, form filling, and better use of technology with regard to attendance.

The only problem is that the numbers of support staff have been gradually dwindling and access to technology is patchy. The Scottish Executive suggests that we buy our own computers and they'll throw in pound;200. It is criminal to think of the time that some teachers have to spend supervising temperamental photocopiers.

Teachers have been known to supplement the creaking education system with their own money, buying red pens, pencils and the occasional resource, but they are paying above all with their time, the most important commodity of all.

Time is inflation-proof, a day off is still a day off 10 years from now - and it is time that should be spent with friends and families, time that should be used diffusing the effects of a stressful day rather than spent in a vain attempt to get ahead.

Lunch breaks and intervals are being increasingly viewed as unnecessary interruptions in the day. These are another opportunity to consolidate pupil learning. Holidays are under threat; the last post has sounded for the 3.30 finish. Stress is no joke. Sufferers need change rather than apologies for the job.

McCrone will hopefully take the workload issue seriously, but I wonder if the committee's findings will be taken up by those who will inevitably view any recommended change through the eyes of the workaholic.

The only market force that teachers have recourse to, are the numbers attracted to the profession. Politicians, be wary of making the profession even less appealing. Half-way to a cure is realising there is a problem in the first place.

Paul Lamarra teaches at Taylor High school, North Lanarkshire

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