The police were finally called after the suspect displayed an unusual enthusiasm for a set of rubber stamps

27th April 2001 at 01:00
The police were finally called after the suspect displayed an unusual enthusiasm for a set of rubber stamps bearing the phrase 'Good effort'

A young teacher was arrested today and cautioned by the police. Staff at her local branch of Rymans had been concerned by her behaviour over a number of weeks. It seems the suspect spent most Saturday mornings gazing into the shop window. One staff member said: "How can anyone find a display of ringbinders that fascinating? Even if they are multicoloured."

The young woman would then enter the shop and execute a routine well documented by staff and CCTV. She would stare at displays of sticky stars and labels before moving on to the filing systems. After a time weighing up different thicknesses of display paper, she would immerse herself in the pen display, trying them out one by one, before buying a selection. They were always red.

The police were finally called after she displayed unusual enthusiasm for a new set of rubber stamps bearing the phrase "Good effort". Under questioning, it was revealed that this young teacher developed an obsession for stationery almost three years ago, when she took up her first teaching post. Although she has tried various self-help methods, she finds the lure of her local Rymans too much to resist.

Psychologists say this attraction is common among teachers. "They're obsessed with organisation," says Dr Bic, a specialist in teacher stress-related disorders (TSRD). "They feel that accessing as many different types of stationery as possible will, in some way, reduce the amount of paperwork on their desks. Their need to embrace the varieties of filing systems represents a deep, unfulfilled desire to come to terms with the amount of paper they are forced to process daily. The thinking is that if they can find a way to file it, it will go away.

"Some communities of teachers have been known to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of their school's GLS catalogue that engenders a whole language and sub-culture of its own. Call it a stationery sect, if you like. They speak only in catalogue numbers and understand each other perfectly. It's a worrying trend that threatens he stability of our education system."

But how does that explain the obsession with red pens? "Red is the colour of passion, traditionally associated with sex and desire," says Frances Repression, psychotherapist and author of Something Wrong in the Classroom: Why Teachers are Swapping Sex for Sleep. "Yet red is also associated with punishment and correction. When teachers start needing the feel of a red pen in their hand, it could be a sign that they are marking to allay their guilt at not attending to other areas of their lives. By frantically trying to find new and ever-changing varieties of red pens they are expressing a sub-conscious belief that this will add some excitement to their lives. And by enjoying the pen, they will therefore enjoy the marking they are forcing themselves to do."

The young teacher was unavailable for comment but police did say she confessed that before she became a teacher she was "a normal person".

Doctors have recently labelled this condition stationery Obsessive Disorder (SOD), and are looking at possible treatments. The suggestion of cutting sufferers' workloads and unnecessary paperwork was greeted with widespread condemnation, especially from exam boards. Other symptoms of SOD include compulsively making lists and only managing to work if there is some reward. For example, "If I do five books, I'll have a Pringle. If I finish them tonight, I'll have a Mars bar. If I finish them and plan a lesson, I'll have a spending spree at Marks and Sparks."

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for this young teacher. "I haven't been down to Rymans for three weeks since my arrest," she told us proudly last week. "Although that could be something to do with the court order. I'm happy to use up the stickers I've got before I buy any more. And I'm resisting the urge to think up colour schemes for my paperclips. Could I just have a look at your Biro before you go?" Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north London. She has written a guide for new teachers, published by The TES, pound;2.99. Order from The TESbookshop at or telephone 01454 617370

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