In school, no one can hear you scream

5th May 2000 at 01:00
HOW SCHOOL lowers a head's self-esteem. A survey conducted in England has been reported in newspapers under the title "What heads hate most". Unsurprisingly, among their least favourite activities are inspections and violent and abusive parents. The list also contains references to such worthy topics as school development plans and managing finances. But my personal survey of a sample of one finds that there are many school irritations which can be enjoyed on a more regular basis.

My list of petty hates has no order of priority since each is part of a conspiracy of events designed to undermine my already shaky self-esteem.

An open door policy. This is intended to make me feel more incompetent and is recommended by management experts who do not have to operate it. If I am not easily available I commit the sin of being unapproachable and if the door is always open I work in three-minute bursts of activity which gives everyone the opportunity to complain that I never achieve anything.

Wet playtimes. Rain brings increasingly short-tempered children and adults, both deprived of fresh air and time away from each other, while those whose burden of supervision is increased are left in smouldering resentment.

Dinner duty. This comes around much too frequently and shows me at my worst. I ask myself if this is what I get paid for and whether this is what people think is my level of responsibility. I do not ask the question aloud as I might be unhappy with the answer.

Looking for lost coats. I stand in the cloakroom at the end of the day and make eye contact with the wrong child. He announces that he has lost his coat. I reply that it must be here somewhere and we search for it calmly, but it is soon obvious that it has disappeared. I say that we should look tomorrow when the person who has accidentally removed it will have returned it. He does not believeme and says that his coat is different from everyone else's. He is now adopting a tone which suggests that I have taken the coat, so I ask him if his name is on it. When he says no I feel superior in an I-told-you-so manner.

A discarded school newsletter. If found on a cloakroom floor, it is possible that its loss has been accidental. If found carefully placed in a litter bin, the insult is complete. I do not rejoice that some child has paid attention to encouragement to keep our school tidy. Instead I assume that two fingers are being held up to the effort I put into producing it.

Children who do not work in silence. All P7 children assure me that they can work in the midst of any amount of noise and that homework is accompanied by Neighbours, the Spice Girls and MTV. This reminds me that I am older than them and grew up listening to Children's Hour on the wireless.

Disturbing the school assembly. It happens when I have come to the best part of my story and the children allow me to think they are engrossed. The door at the back creaks open and a lone figure returns from his visit to the nurse. No one has shown him how to slip in at the back; so he takes an age to walk to his class and push his way into the middle of the row while wearing a remarkably squeaky pair of shoes. If I continue, everyone will look at him. If I pause and wait, everyone will look at him. Whichever way, I have lost the thread of the story and the children no longer have to pretend that they are listening.

The secondary comparison. It happens in the barber's chair after the question about your long forgotten holidays. Where do you work? I say I am a teacher. What subject? Well . . . everything, really, is my limp reply as I fail to hide that my place of work is in a primary school. Oh, just primary teaching is the reaction, you don't even have to think about exams.


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