No time - even for a nervous breakdown

23rd November 2007 at 00:00
You will understand my exasperation. I have a herniated disc from carrying tomes of planning to and from school. I have struggled like a McCartney-Mills marriage guidance counsellor to reconcile the vagaries of the new framework to the complexities of the last one.

I am faint with exhaustion from making resources to cover five levels of differentiation. My short sleeping hours are a fitful and sweaty confusion of phonemes, graphemes and blasphemes. I wouldn't know an adverbial phrase if it jumped up exuberantly and bit me viciously, painfully and deliberately on the backside.

My brain is spiralling out of control from overdosing on terminology and detailed guidance. I arrive at school knackered and I go home knackered, and come 8.45am I stand blearily in front of my class and, straining against inertia, press the whole towering edifice of current good practice onto the field of play. It wobbles and lurches. I feel distinctly nauseous.

Bits begin to fall off - a missed opportunity for assessment for learning here, the odd bit of kinaesthetic learning there. After that it's downhill all the way. Or at least until 3.15 when I finally pick myself up, dust myself down and limp off to a staff meeting on how to make listening to children read as complex as open-heart surgery.

But this isn't why I'm exasperated. Oh no. I'm exasperated because the latest research to emerge from Robin Alexander's primary review shows that, despite all my efforts, not to mention the efforts of every other teacher and a shed-load of taxpayers' money, literacy standards have not improved since those dark days when every child read Janet and John out loud to their teacher and spent the long afternoon French knitting, embroidering a bookmark or doing a project on dinosaurs.

They say teaching isn't rocket science, but the glossy plethora of jargon-filled frameworks, detailed guidance and exemplar materials that monsoon from on high sure make it feel like it is. Teacher guidance is too prescriptive, too complex, too detailed, too contradictory and generally too much to be anything other than confusing and demotivating. The rallying cry of "Education, education, education" has swelled the ranks of experts and consultants so that those who no longer teach use up an ever-increasing share of resources developing ever more complex ways of telling those who still do how to do it better. This has led to an exponential increase in the amount of time and energy teachers spend on planning, preparation, making resources and frightening the cat by hurling obscenities born out of frustration at the dining-room wall on a Sunday evening.

The result is a profession too knackered to teach effectively, too scared to teach at all - except by numbers - in case the witch-finders general at Ofsted find them guilty and sentence them to capability procedures, and too short of time to at least have a well-deserved nervous breakdown.

In a word, exasperated.

Steve Eddison, Year 6 teacher in a Sheffield primary.

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