Shrunken mental world of teachers

7th April 2006 at 01:00
The first episode of Waterloo Road was a blast. A zippy and intelligent conflict about how to save a failing school, it made me feel cool and tough to be a teacher. I lay on the sofa shouting agreement with whoever was speaking at the time. And none of it was my problem.

Then BAM! Someone drove a car through the plot. I still find it riveting, but somewhere in all the screaming, I've lost my sense of how tough I am just because I'm a teacher. I can't be as tough as Kim because I didn't deliver a baby in the classroom today. And after a day like that I certainly wouldn't go home to do some marking, as Andrew did. I'd lie very still with my eyes closed, drinking cider through a curly straw.

I love this series, with its wild storylines about birth, death, marriage and drunken headmasters. It certainly puts a bad day at school in perspective.

But in a way, that's the problem with it. It doesn't reflect the weirdly shrunken mental world of the teacher who's spent the whole day stopping fights over who took Johnny's compass and whether this is Jenny's chair or not.

Incident report forms highlight this. Filling in the "Nature of Offence"

box is humbling. It just isn't on the Waterloo Road scale of "crashing a limo" or "blackmailing the head". Often it's things like "refusing to move a potted plant", "throwing things" or just "being annoying".

Part of the stress of school comes from being sucked back into the mental proportions of childhood. If you spend your day taming victims of stolen rulers, is it any wonder that you end up squeaking, "He wouldn't lift the plant!" like an aphasia victim?

That's why the onslaught of adult crises in Waterloo Road reconciles me to the job. It pings perspective back into its proper shape. And it relieves stress. Instead of bottling up your frustration, you can scoff at the screen as loudly as you like: "Don't run out of the classroom! Send for senior management, you twerp!"

Strangest of all, people don't laugh much in this television school. You don't see them weeping with laughter over a rude spelling mistake in a Year 7 test. I feel sorry for these teachers, I really do.

Then again, could you honestly convey to a non-teaching audience how hilarious it was when the bacon sandwich got stuck in the photocopier? Well, perhaps you could, but they wouldn't like it. It'd be far too much like being at school.

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