The dark side of the whiteboard - Drowning not waving

28th May 2010 at 01:00

There are three things you never want to be: a turkey in December, a grouse in August, or a teacher at the end of May. While April might be the cruellest month, May is the worst: it heralds the start of the dreaded exam season. In May, teachers' lives go on hold; the impending examinations are the only things that matter.

When we are not clocking up hours with after-school sessions or squandering our lunchtimes supervising catch-up clinics, we are camped in resources happily transforming the South American rainforests into "pupil friendly" revision guides. As stress busters go, there is nothing like a ream of new resources, freshly milled and still warm from the copier. Rumour has it that if you hold it to your ribs long enough, it might just melt your frozen teacher heart.

We spend the last frantic weeks before E-Day randomly photocopying everything in sight. Too much too late it may be, but we force these massive volumes on to our pupils in order to make us feel better about them being unprepared. It is like throwing an inflatable duck on to the steerage deck of the Titanic, or sending our boys off to Afghanistan with a hankie and a crocheted snood. Handing out last-minute revision guides to pupils who have spent the majority of your lessons untangling their headphones and trading Maoam bars is pointless. You might as well insist that your teenage daughter, in fishnets and a dominatrix corset, takes her cardigan into town. It may go in the bag, but you both know it is not coming out.

This exam prep kills all known pleasures 100 per cent dead. In my department, we are on our knees with exhaustion. No one has had sex since Boxing Day and the last time we went out socially was to pick up Tamiflu. Our English team used to be known for our indomitable good humour, but it disappeared last Wednesday with a sack of cheesy nibbles and the last of the semi-skimmed milk.

School sucks at this time of year and, as teachers' husbands will testify, it is probably the only thing that does. We are knackered: if I was a horse, I would be planning a sideways move into a can of Pedigree Chum. We have stopped washing our mugs and the staffroom looks like a scene from a disaster movie. My anxious, ashen-faced colleagues sift through the ransacked remains of filing cabinets searching for lost coursework folders. Every available space is strewn with dismembered essays, pages long since missing in action. We are fighting off fatigue and an urge to use powdered milk. Meanwhile, the moderator, like a great white shark, circles our weakest and most vulnerable student folders floundering in the shallows of the borderline Cs.

Sleep is just a memory for us now. At night we lie awake grinding our teeth and fracturing old fillings. Five of us need an emergency dentist, but we are battling on with oil of cloves, codeine and anything that is three for a tenner and not French or fizzy.

And our pupils? Are they grateful that we have sacrificed our souls, our waistlines and our expensive veneers? Of course not. If you are lucky, you may end up with a dozen Belgian seashells. If not, your Cs will end up Bs and will be legitimately back in September signing up for A-levels in physics, maths and further functional skills. Better cancel that week in Corfu and start knocking out those sentence starters for their Ucas forms.

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

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