Fifty shades greyer

14th September 2012 at 01:00

I am the only member of our (mainly female) staff who hasn't read Fifty Shades of Grey. This means I can only linger on the periphery of a lunchtime conversation that begins with something about an inner goddess doing the merengue with salsa moves, and ends in squeals of laughter and someone choking on a low-fat chicken and pineapple wrap.

So what if I don't know my nipple clamps from my love balls? It's medication I need, not titillation. Preferably with a substance that has experienced fermentation. The new school year has barely started and I'm already knackered.

Sleep deprivation is the biggest problem, but what's keeping me awake at night isn't bondage in the bedroom, it's chaos in the classroom. I am on my 10th seating plan and I'm still no nearer finding one that works - one that provides the optimum sociological and pedagogical conditions for raising attainment and maximising pupil progress.

You would think that after a million years of teaching I could easily draw up a class seating plan. The truth is, I can't. They say age brings wisdom - they forget to mention it also brings piles, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction - but wisdom born of experience is only useful when you apply it to a familiar teaching environment.

I once heard someone describe the classroom environment as the ever-changing landscape of learning. If, at the time, I muttered the word "bollocks" under my breath I now apologise, because the description is bang on. My landscape of learning has changed a lot over recent years. It's now about as familiar to me as a sex dungeon. By which, incidentally, I mean it is not familiar at all.

Expectation inflation - leading to the micromanagement of personalised targets that are harder to hit than a bare bottom with a satin whip while wearing a leather blindfold and fur-lined handcuffs - has introduced a breathless intensity to classroom organisation. The perfect seating plan is suddenly the ultimate desire for those seeking complete teaching satisfaction.

But even the geometry of arranging tables is complex. Where once there were only rows, rectangles or squares, we now have an infinite variety of cooperative clusters including horseshoes, closed circles and Mayan pyramids. And where once the guidelines for their layout were clearly written, we have introduced chaos theory. Seating arrangements that were orderly and functional are now shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Then there are the children to put into the equation, arranged by cross-referencing ability, learning style, social and emotional profile, friendship group and - last but not least - parental influence. To be honest I never really considered the latter until last year, when Angelika's dad threatened to wring my neck if I sat her next to Ryan again.

A maths teacher I know whose hobby is Trappist beer calculated that there are more ways to arrange children in a classroom than there are atoms in the universe. So you can imagine I felt quite pleased with myself in the early hours of a Sunday morning when I finally completed my general class seating plan. "Got you," I gasped, repeatedly smothering a precious sheet of A4 with rough kisses.

Now I just need to sort my maths groups, literacy groups, guided reading groups and my hair. It's fifty shades greyer than a fortnight ago.

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.

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