The devil takes many forms

30th July 2004 at 01:00
As Jacqui Udy discovered when her purple prose almost landed her in hot water

I've cleared out my email folders, arranged my paperclips, filled the round filing bin under my desk, organised my staff meeting minutes in date order and walked past the chocolate machine twice - and still the yellow self-review form on my desk hasn't filled itself in. This morning my reflection in the bathroom mirror winced when I tried to look it in the eye, and I dressed quickly to save it any more embarrassment. Navel-gazing ended after the birth of my third child because there wasn't time to find my navel any more, and girly nights spent filling out Cosmo quizzes with Carol and a bottle of wine are long gone.

Being in the middle of middle-age is fine by me. I have given myself permission to be a real grown up. But the yellow form has given me teenage angst. Do I fit in? Do they like me? Am I good enough? Will I be promoted? Self-doubt depresses me quicker than cheap brandy.

Filling it out in purple ink will make me feel better. Confidently, I photocopy it in case I make a mistake.

What parts of my job have given me pleasure this year? On the photocopy I write "pay day" instantly. On to the yellow sheet flows a brief description of my pleasure in organising a college "awareness raising" day for 200 Year 10 pupils.

What parts of my job have been less satisfying? Under "pay day" I write "the amount of it". Magically the yellow sheet is now burbling about time constraints preventing me from organising more events.

Could management have done anything to improve my job? The devil whispers and I write "retired?" and the self-completing yellow form bows and says:

"I have felt truly supported by the management team in all my endeavours."

The devil and the yellow form duly complete their evaluations of my performance while I eat chocolate and look out of the window, humming gently to myself. Nothing to it really.

I've gone through the process and left space in my paean of gentle self congratulation for some target-setting. Two envelopes, one for my copy, one for my line manager and the job is done.

Part of the review process involves my line manager collecting evidence from my colleagues about working with me. As I have several cross-college roles, the pool of evidence is extensive. During the long drive home I force myself to examine my relationships with my colleagues, and I can honestly say that I unearth nothing too alarming. No blood has been spilt, no really angry words exchanged, and there has been a lot of laughter and shared relief when the team has pulled off successful open evenings, information evenings and a complete round of parents' evenings in local schools. As I get ready for bed, I'm sure my reflection winks at me.

Two weeks pass in a blur of key skills teaching, newsletter writing, website authoring and chocolate eating. The review process has slipped from my mind, along with the whereabouts of my son's football kit.

My line manager is a dear - we've shared a broom cupboard for eight years and he's become a sort of daytime husband with no benefits. He is so calm and unflappable that I occasionally yell at him to make sure he's awake.

I'm a little surprised when he invites me into his inner portion of cupboard, because the only time he lets me in is for my review meeting. I'm surprised again by my heart exiting through the soles of my feet. The plummeting feeling is going into freefall, as I become the child before the parent.

He begins gently enough by going through the department's triumphs and my role in them. My heart begins to function normally and I can feel the parachute of hope and praise safely on my back. We're both nodding and smiling.

"Last year's targets met," he says. Waves of inner peace begin to settle.

"But I was rather surprised..." He takes an envelope from his desk. It's a photocopy, filled out by a devil with a purple pen.

Jacqui Udy teaches IT at Itchen college in Southampton

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