Case study: a head of inclusion

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
I'm out for dinner. It's a Sunday night and I'm getting panicky. Our friends have problems putting their baby to bed and they're going to be late. I'm trying to calculate exactly how much time it will take for them to arrive, park, order and the food to arrive. How quickly can they chew? The restaurant is getting busy. I'm rapidly losing the will to socialise, and my husband is losing the will ever to leave the house with me again.

Most people are settling down around us for a lively evening to finish off the weekend. My brain has already fast-forwarded to Monday morning, 8.50, 28 hyper 14-year-olds. You don't just need planning, preparation and a sense of humour to deal with that particular scenario. You need sleep. And at this point on my Sunday evening, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen for a good few hours yet.

I'm not sure that sleep assumes this vital, underlying importance in many other professions. On any Monday morning after a heavy weekend, I imagine that someone with the average desk job could sneak in a few minutes late, put the phone on answer machine, spend longer than usual round the coffee machine, and generally lay low behind their computer for most of the day.

Human interaction could be kept to its minimum, least offensive level.

Noise could be controlled or at least put on the backburner for 24 hours.

Tiredness, in short, would not be such a crucial issue.

Teaching is not like that. You can't turn down the volume on kids or ask them to call back later. You have to think of ways to make your tiredness work for you. Make it an integral part of the learning experience until it's practically a learning objective. I am not above planning a scheme of work so that the video lesson coincides with a Monday morning after a heavy weekend. I also have another brilliant technique of setting exam practice questions first thing on a pesky Monday morning. It's very important to experience real exam conditions, I say. Vital to ultimate success.

Along with the obvious favourites such as coffee and chocolate, every teacher has their own battery of coping skills when it comes to the exhaustion that is the inevitable result of firing on all cylinders, all day, every day. Do Inset days planned for Mondays have a higher than usual booking rate? Just a thought. But here's the depressing thing. However many tricks you have up your sleeve, as you become more experienced as a teacher, it doesn't get any better. Life has a funny way of overturning your most virtuous intentions. My first year as a head of department coincided with an Ofsted inspection and my first pregnancy. I would go home on a Friday evening and not get out of bed until it was time to go back to school on Monday morning. I bought a chair on coasters and would scoot around our office rather than walk. I drank quantities of coffee that would have made Miriam Stoppard choke.

After that, giving birth was comparatively easy. I sat quietly through mother and baby groups while all the other mums said that being at home with a baby was so much more exhausting than being at work. Sure, it was challenging. But exhausting? Anyone who has guided a group of unwilling Year 12s through a discussion of iambic pentameter last thing on a Friday afternoon when you are the only obstacle between them and their weekends will not understand the meaning of exhaustion. Being a mum is many things, but after five years in the classroom, it is not the most tiring thing I have ever experienced. So, sucker that I am, I've recently gone back to work. I suppose I should mention that I am also six months pregnant with my second baby. Sorry, Year 10, you're going to be doing quite a lot of silent exam practice in the weeks to come.

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a north London comprehensive. She wrote a column for Friday magazine until the birth of her first child.


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