The dark side of the whiteboard - Being nice gets you nowhere

11th March 2011 at 00:00

Have you noticed how the absence of people skills can be an asset when it comes to education? There seems to be a direct correlation between social ineptitude and professional advancement. Take my school, for example. In January, my department hit the early-entry jackpot, with three quarters of all candidates gaining their A to C in English. Our best results yet.

If we worked in finance that would have earned us a squillion-pound bonus and a champagne reception featuring an irate taxpayer jumping out of Our Big Fat Tipsy Bankers' Cake. Instead, we got an email about chairs. It seems that our classroom furniture management is a cause for concern. By flouting the school's chair-stacking policies we are allowing standards to slip. In fact, our cavalier attitude to small furniture husbandry has undermined the entire moral fabric of our school. And given the shortage of BSF funding, cable ties and grout that would otherwise hold it together, this has grave structural implications.

This procedural cock-up is probably down to me because I don't have an eye for detail. Anyone who can spend her time happily baking rock cakes and crocheting tea-cosies while her husband is furtively tunnelling his way out of a 23-year marriage isn't best placed to notice the odd wonky chair. My visual impairment is exploited in school. Whenever there is a room shortage, my classroom is used. Last week it was pimped out to the Triple Award Science kids who stuck chewing gum to the chairs and ground crisps into the carpet tiles. Yesterday, A-level maths took over. They tessellated the desks into rhombic shapes, then drew Kabbalistic equations on my whiteboard that only Carol Vorderman or someone with a PhD in being friendless could solve.

A colleague's room is free at the same time as mine, only it is never used. Why? Because if anyone has the temerity to finger her felt-tips or rustle through her drawers, she sends out vitriolic whole-school emails. Hence, her room is pristine; a tidy testament to the usefulness of having OCD in the workplace, whereas mine looks like Glastonbury at the end of an inclement June.

In recognition of her predilection for being pernickety, IT support also gave her a brand new laptop. They twigged that in order to protect their PPA time (Plopping out their Penises and Assessing whose is biggest) they would be best off giving her one that that works. Unfortunately for me, my genial request for a replacement laptop is still being blanked. Mine chugs. Not only that, but it has become a challenge even to log on and check my emails.

Being nice gets you nowhere. To get ahead in education, you need smart shoes, an empathy by-pass and the interpersonal skills of an ichneumon fly. The worst school managers value form over content and mindless obeisance to mindful intelligence. In this we are a microcosm for the world at large. Think about Hell's Kitchen or The Apprentice. The choice of the TV front man mirrors the recruitment process for school leadership: are you an obsessive compulsive with no discernible people skills? Here - have your own TV seriespastoral empiresecondary school. In teaching, as in life, shy bairns get nowt.

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

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