Our Gordon-style gaffes must not define us

7th May 2010 at 01:00

As I write, election fever is at its peak. By the time you read this, the event itself will all be over, and the fever will have mutated into a dragging, painful, years-long post-viral syndrome. Not that I'm cynical or anything.

I have one hope: that the country's decision won't have been made on a single slip-up. Know the one I mean? Think off-switches, Northern pensioners named Gillian and words that rhyme with spigot. Gordon's gaffe is bound to have influenced how some people voted, but more than that would be unjust, taken in isolation. Why? Because you don't have to be a politician for one oh-sod-it moment to turn everything belly-up and become the thing that defines you. We're all at risk, and don't teachers know it?

I teach 30 lessons a week. The number of teacher-student interactions per session must reach, say, roughly, at a guess, 34,073. It's multi-tasking gone mad. At some point, I'm going to say or do something stupid, whether by accident or by Gordon-style ill-tempered, stressy design. And then what happens? "What did Mrs Hill say about iambic pentameter?" "Dunno, but did you hear what she said when she wrote on the Smartboard with indelible pen? Epic!"

A teacher friend once stumbled over "he had been misled" and read it as "he had been mizzled" to sixth-formers. She knew the word, but she just went blank. It's easily done when you got up at dawn to mark 20 essays. But she never lived it down; they called her Miss Led for ages.

Argh! What if I should attribute a Browning poem to Hardy? What if I start to say "epithalamium", get tongue-tied, and then end up calling it "epiwotsit" for the rest of the lesson? What if I forget I don't teach in a boys' school now and find that gentle teasing has been taken as biting sarcasm?

What if I admit I've done all of these - this week?

The kids, bless 'em all, are forgiving, if delighted with our discomfiture. Unfortunately, Ofsted inspectors and others who make judgments may not be so merciful.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but has the focus shifted in education from what we do to what we don't do? For instance, on a recent Teachers TV programme, a maths teacher kept a class of restless inner-city Year 7s engaged with an hour's activities, group work and intricate hand-carved resources. However, she was told that, because she hadn't differentiated enough, she could not move from a "good" to an "outstanding" rating. The teacher said she was "gutted", and so was I. She wasn't just teaching: she was turning water into wine. It just wasn't the miracle they wanted.

It's pedantry of the kind that judges people on one cock-up, so that thriving schools risk failing inspections because of bits of missing paperwork, and respected staff get suspended because of a dodgy accusation, and innovative teachers have their knuckles rapped for not making kids write out lesson objectives (what a thrilling start to a lesson that is).

We all have our "Duffy" moments, and most teachers I know are already "outstanding" at the metaphorical self-flagellation process. These moments are just that: moments. They should not define us.

Fran Hill, English teacher at an independent girls' school, Warwickshire

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