The dark side of the whiteboard

8th July 2011 at 01:00
Everyone wants a fresh start

Our new teacher's planners have arrived. After the usual bun-fight over who has to make do with the taupe ones (in our school it's invariably the GTPs, NQTs and anyone who's off having chemo), I am now the proud owner of a brand new purple ring-bound planner. It's my passport to a more effective future. I'll be glad to throw my old one in the bin. It's an A4 albatross, a constant reminder of my administrative failings. It's bulging with two-part lesson plans, unkempt registers, and higgledy-piggledy class lists followed by row upon row of assessment data containing more porkie pies than a Melton Mowbray farmer's market.

Our new planners were delivered just in the nick of time, since some of our school's middle managers have begun photocopying our current ones to "support future performance management". This prurient interest in our planning smacks more of pedagogical gusset sniffing than effective professional development, so most of us can't wait to slip into a clean set of September's sheets.

A new planner offers absolution from past sins. It's what drives the kids to beg us for new exercise books before they've finished their old ones: they are desperate to ditch the incriminating dossiers of poor homework, bad spellings and ill-advised artist's impressions of Kelly Morgan's breasts that have been dogging them for months. And who can blame them? Everyone wants a fresh start.

The older generation are a case in point. Once upon a time they could be relied upon for two things: knowing bus timetables off by heart and shuffling to the front of the supermarket queue to pay for their Soreen malt loaf with coins, coupons and a watch battery. But now thanks to the University of the Third Age and the Workers' Educational Association, which specialise in re-booting the elderly, granny is more likely to want a new iPad than a hip replacement.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat next to two sweet old ladies on a train. While they shared a packet of Mamp;S gentrified cheese and cock-a-snoot chutney sandwiches, one patiently explained to the other how to change the compatibility settings on Windows 7. It would have been less shocking if they had discussed a mutual fondness for teabagging and oral sex. Pensioners like these are obviously behind the collapse of the nation's libraries.

Nor is it just the elderly who have given themselves a re-vamp. Men are renowned for seeking mid-life marital upgrades: they take stock of the wrinkled fascia lying on the pillow next to them then get it into their heads that they need a lighter, slimmer Android model with touch-screen sensitivity and an on-off button that works. It's ironic that marriages lasted longer when life expectancy was shorter. When a man's primary contract was terminated at 65, he couldn't be arsed with the hassle of shopping for a next-generation model.

As a society we are obsessed with upgrading. The recent introduction of the A* with distinction is symptomatic of our love affair with the new. New planners, new operating systems, new mobiles, new academies: they offer us pristine perfection, a chance to get it right. Except that their inherent obsolescence means they'll always end up being wrong.

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

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