Putting a spring in their step;Opinion

9th April 1999 at 01:00
One of the highlights of The TES Scotland is "The Sweeney", the thoughtful column contributed by the heidie at Edinburgh's Holyrood High. Readers will know that, of late, Pat has taken to "naming and claiming" members of his staff in recognition of a long-running, high level of commitment to school and pupils.

Knowing some of them of old, I can vouch for the debt that many pupils owe them. However, my enjoyment of this initiative lies mostly in its effectiveness as a means of promoting staff morale at a time when it is sorely needed.

Like Pat, I'm lucky enough to teach in a school with a staff who are famously committed, and who give of themselves unstintingly. I find their efforts inspirational and I am proud to be one of their colleagues and a member of their management team.

However, what worries me is that these hard-working, committed and effective professionals are, to put it bluntly, absolutely knackered. As Easter approaches, I see folk who are grey faced and hollow eyed with exhaustion, and teaching under permanent stress, and this in a successful school, with motivated students and good parental support.

Young teachers regularly put in a 10-hour day and go home to do more marking and preparation: God knows what time they get with partner and children. Should we be happy with an education system that offers so much commitment to other people's children at the expense of our own?

We need to cherish our teachers for the enormous contribution they make under difficult condition, but we seem to find that difficult. Some time ago, a TES Scotland editorial warned against management by "car-park monitoring", where the position of the staff's cars revealed how many extra hours they were putting in, on a "first in, last out" basis.

Four years later, our teachers are still being worked to death, and it appears to many of them that nobody is too bothered. While other countries and professions begin to doubt the wisdom or effectiveness of overlong hours, we seem to be trying to turn it into a professional qualification.

The solution may be a long time coming. As long ago as 1145, St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order of monks, wrote that workaholism would lead to "hardness of heart". He warned: "You are wearing yourself out in foolish labour over things which are a waste of your mental energy. And what does it yield you in the end but cobwebs?" Our pupils deserve staff who bring a brightness to the classroom that comes from having a life outside of school. I hope your Easter break blows away some of those cobwebs.

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