Red wine and sympathy

4th January 2013 at 00:00

Compassion isn't a word you would normally associate with journalists. Generally speaking, media types are seen as the bottom feeders in the ethical evolutionary chain, constantly vying for position with tapeworms, parasitic wasps and people who keep chopped up human body parts in chest freezers. Journalists are undoubtedly a wicked lot. When they're not producing prime-time television tributes to dead paedophiles or hacking into dead girls' phones, they're mopping up #163;10 million pay-offs from News Corporation as compensation for "loss of office".

In this topsy-turvy world of moral turpitude, the redder your hands, the more likely they'll be crossed with silver. So when I found myself spiralling into a deep depression last month it came as a bit of a shock that the person who came to my aid wasn't a caring, sharing fellow teacher but the editor of TES.

It's a sad indictment of the teaching profession that it took a hard-nosed magazine editor to talk me down off the bridge. Well, an editor, some bottles of wine and a particularly tasty steak. In truth, I had been feeling pretty low. Teaching is not a profession that makes you feel good about yourself. The constant scrutiny of your work - your marking, your classroom management, your pupils' progress - takes a toll on your self-belief. I couldn't have felt much less attractive if I'd stood in front of a mirror wearing yellow hot pants, turquoise tights and a peephole bra.

In part, my floundering self-esteem is to do with the constant purge of "ineffectual teachers". I'm too old and cynical to ignore the fact that one day this will be me. You can't spend your life studying Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman and not have an inkling of what's to come. The more I hear about raising professional standards, the more certain I am that I'll end up in the van.

This government-inflicted fear of failure makes us less compassionate towards one another. We're so busy muttering "I must work harder" and looking out for ourselves that we haven't got time to care for one another. Take the way we respond to colleagues who are unwell. Once upon a time, if you were absent, you could look forward to flowers, chocolates and hourly texts. Nowadays you'll get an email demanding cover work. And not just any old work, but work that has an appropriate level of difficulty for the class, which is tricky because sometimes when you're ill it's hard enough hitting the toilet bowl let alone a level 6 challenge.

But because they're so stretched, your colleagues are less than sympathetic. They're buckling under the additional strain and don't know what to do with all the extra writing your classes produce. Finally, they pile it on your desk to punish you for being sick. In the dog-eat-dog world of the progressive school, there's little scope for solidarity. You can have a cold or cancer but nothing in-between, because if you can't make it back within 48 hours it's easier if you die. That way your department is given a fresh, new teacher who'll set and mark the work while your colleagues divvy up your felt-tips and play scissors, paper, stone to decide who inherits your laptop.

Teaching was always a caring profession. If the first rule of teaching was "Take care of the kids", the second was "Take care of each other". Sadly, this no longer seems to be the case, which is why I rely on the kindness of journalists and the anaesthetising properties of red wine.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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