No witch's hat? What a performance management

4th January 2008 at 00:00
"See that West Highland Terrier over there?" says my friend.

It takes me some time to spot it. My interest in dogs is limited to avoiding the ones that strain at heavy-linked chains outside the school gates and eating the ones that come in a bap with onions and tomato ketchup. The latter are on sale two stalls away and it's only right we support this autumn fair in every way we can. After all, Smelly Place Farm is a valuable educational resource.

"You mean the one performing tricks for a pat on the head and a doggy choccy?" I ask. She nods.

"What about it?"

"It reminds me of me," she says.

I harbour several doubts about this. I'll admit there is something vaguely familiar about the way it teeters on its hind legs, but the prospect of my friend doing back flips in a red and gold tutu are unlikely. Even more so since the accident.

She sighs. "I had my lesson observation last week. It was only a 'satisfactory with good elements'."

I nod sympathetically.

"It's so disappointing after all the time and energy I put into preparing for it."

Apparently she and her Year 4s re-enacted the witches scene from Macbeth. The entire class danced around a cauldron - apart from one boy who was "not fuckin' doin' it" so sat behind the bookshelf balancing thesauruses on his head. Actually the cauldron was a large tureen from the school kitchen into which they threw the various body parts, fluids and vital organs of several woodland creatures. Jamie Oliver would have been well impressed.

"So how did you do that?" I ask.

She frowns at her heavily bandaged ankle. "I tripped over the skull of a rabid vixen, got my stiletto tangled in my black satin frock, lost my witch's hat and went arse over broomstick across the carpet."

I shake my head knowledgeably and reflect upon what our once dignified profession has been reduced to in the name of performance management. The sleepless nights, the pages of planning, the hours of preparation to produce a one-hour classroom drama that ticks enough boxes on a four-page observation to licence us to teach for the next 12 months.

"I've been doing this job for 30 years!" she rants. "It's ridiculous, humiliating, downright bloody degrading. Does anyone seriously believe it is humanly possible to prepare entertaining and engaging lessons like that five times a day, five days a week? The bloody system is a farce! A charade! A complete and utter ... Who's that woman over there? She looks familiar.'

Through the damp, mist of an early January afternoon, a pale ghost of a teacher stares hollow-eyed into the distance.

"Poor woman's in special measures," I whisper. "She has her lessons observed all the bloody time. Works 22 hours a day and hasn't slept in 14 months ... Hey, but that's show biz! Fancy a hot dog?"

Steve Eddison, Year 6 teacher, Sheffield.

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