Rage against the vying of the bright

17th November 1995 at 00:00
Have you had a "rage" lately? Rages are all the rage nowadays. If you get cut up by a fellow motorist, and you decide to lob your car jack through his windscreen at the next traffic lights, then that is apparently all right. You are simply suffering from "road rage".

No problem either if, after standing in line at the supermarket check-out, you decide to tip your groceries over the head of the cashier, abandon your brimming trolley and storm out. Just a touch of "queue rage".

If you want to make something which is rather distasteful appear to be acceptable, then just give it a fashionable name. Psychopaths must love it. "Sorry I went berserk with the machine-gun, m'lud. Slight attack of 'people rage', I'm afraid." "No problem. You are merely a victim of furor humanitas. Case dismissed."

Recently I have been wondering why more teachers are not suffering from "career rage". The steady professional ladder of promotions from fresh-faced rookie to headteacher is eroding. If it is increasingly respectable to argue that the blind mist of anger is an excuse for violence, then why are the court case columns of newspapers not full of teachers venting their ire for having their career opportunities blighted?

It can begin at the interview stage. There are several horror stories of the antics of chairmen of governors who have decided that they will personally de- brief unsuccessful candidates after an interview. Some chairmen are very good at this, sensitive and helpful, striking just the right note.

The dimwits, unfortunately, are clueless. "Your referees let you down," one trilled, spilling the detail to an unsuccessful candidate. She immediately hot-footed it to her hapless reference writers, who mistakenly believed that they had written in confidence.

Another chairman thought the direct approach was best. As the interviewing panel and applicants munched their refreshments afterwards, he took each unsuccessful applicant aside. "We decided you weren't up to it", he announced to one, "you just haven't got enough oomph''.

The chairman was then carried out to the nearest accident and emergency unit for the surgical removal of a plate of sausage rolls, as the candidate suffered an attack of oomph, or "prat rage", as medical science calls it. Except that he didn't. Like others in similar circumstances, he just went home and complained to his friends at his treatment, in the best long- suffering tradition of the profession.

It is astonishing how impotent some teachers now feel about their careers. Part-timers are laid off, supply teachers find their pay rates cut, full- timers are made redundant after years of service. Occasionally there is a protest march, but outside of a small circle of close friends and colleagues, few in the wider society seem to want to do anything about it.

One very significant step in the career ladder is being eroded as the number of deputy headships declines. Schools in the red often do not replace deputy heads who leave, to save money. Their work then falls on the shoulders of the head and other teachers. An important job, and a valuable training ground for many future heads, is under threat.

There is a sad game that has been played out at a number of colleges of further education. It is called "pass the parcel". One Saturday, a motor-cycle courier calls at the teacher's door bearing a buff envelope. What exciting treat could this be? An unexpected windfall? An unclaimed lottery prize? An early Christmas present?

No, it is none of these. It is actually a redundancy notice. In some cases the teachers were told that they must clear their desk immediately, but only if escorted round the premises by a member of the security staff. Most victims go numb rather than wild.

I suspect that many teachers avoid career rage by using defence mechanisms like this. The well-known defence mechanisms, such as "regression" and "sublimation", were neatly laid out by Sigmund Freud. They are alive and well in the teaching profession.

Regression involves returning to one's childhood to regain a sense of security: "Disappointed at missing promotion? Me? Don't make me laugh! Er, would you mind passing me that teddy bear and blanket please?" Other people practise sublimation. This is the avoidance of rage by channelling aggression into something higher and nobler, thereby gaining respect from oneself and others: "As I failed to get that senior post I shall simply dedicate all my energies in future to supporting a worthwhile national institution. Such as the brewing industry."

Another favourite is "displacement", which occurs when people divert their anger away from the thing they really hate towards something else instead, like a scapegoat: "No, I wasn't upset when the chairman told me I lacked oomph. I blame Margaret Thatcher."

We can learn a great deal about coping with rage from the natural world. Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize for his studies of animal behaviour, wrote a marvellous book about dogs. He describes the ritual when two aggressive male dogs meet. If they are both on the leash, they tend to strain and snarl at each other in an impressive display of rage, knowing that they do not actually have to fight.

When dogs are off the leash, however, they are much more pragmatic. They approach each other, slide by, sniff one another, and then, honour satisfied, urinate gracefully against the nearest tree and go home.

So there you have it. If you don't get that bonus, should you be pipped at the post for that headship, if the chairman of governors tells you that you lack oomph, then worry not. Don't throw a fit, don't stamp and rage, don't push your blood pressure up to danger levels. Just nip quietly outside and tiddle on the geraniums.

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