The dark side of the whiteboard - I found nirvana - it's in Surrey

1st April 2011 at 01:00

I've just come back from a yoga retreat. I wouldn't normally spend my weekends with people who are lactose intolerant and wear pendants, but some disastrous A-level results pushed me close to the edge. My colleagues tried to reassure me, telling me it was the exam board's shoddy marking and not my dodgy teaching, but I wasn't convinced. It had to be my fault.

The only clue to my students' horror performance came from an imperious examiner's report that sneered at those candidates who thought Macbeth's driving ambition could be described as an "emotion". I should have warned my students that the latest assessment objective involved splitting semantic hairs. The problem with the exam board is that they are victims of their own success. Their new spec has proved so popular that they booby-trap their questions to sabotage the rank and file. It's an unnecessary cruelty. I'm no classics scholar, but I'm sure the word education comes from the Latin "educo" meaning "I lead out", not "I fuck them up".

Anyway, my students bombed. Their grades wouldn't earn them a place on an events management course, let alone history at Durham, and this microcosm of shit was entirely down to me. So I did the one decent thing that any conscientious teacher would do: I had an anxiety attack. Not just one but several, because when hyperventilation starts it ticks over like a combi boiler, firing into action when there is any new pressure on the system.

I've had them before. You can't lose your mum, your dad and have your house repossessed without taking a few knocks to your psyche. So whenever my heart gets "too beat-y", as my daughter succinctly puts it, I ditch the caffeine, bin the wine and take long walks in the country. Only this time it didn't work. My heart kept racing like a dubstep mix.

I could have tried seeing my doctor. But northern GPs are notorious drug dealers. You go to have your boil lanced, and you come out hooked on methadone. A recent Guardian investigation revealed there is a huge NorthSouth divide when it comes to depression and health care. While London GPs favour talking therapies, ours just slip you some pills. Certainly, before my mum died she had been given regular cocktails of tablets with the occasional ECT chaser. So rather than risk anti-depressants, I decided to plump for the yoga.

I arrived at the hotel late on Friday evening. It was like some hideous parody of the Big Brother house, where the producers had positively discriminated in favour of people with third nipples, elongated earlobes, and MS Autograph pashminas. I noticed with dismay that everyone had dressed for dinner. In my house, since it's always minced beef in a tomato slurry, it's safer dressing down. We retired to the conference room where the organiser ran through the schedule, which would "restore prana and promote harmony and vitality". The next day began with a gentle workout. It made a nice change from my usual Saturday routine: downward facing dog and granola instead of doggy style and a fry-up.

At breakfast, one couple caught my attention: they radiated peace and contentment. I asked them if they had attained nirvana through meditation, but it turns out it was because they came from Surrey.

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

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