Smile, even when it hurts

16th February 2001 at 00:00
The flurry of leaflets to ease teachers' stress is enough to make the blood pressure rocket, writes Ian Whitwham.

Teacherline is jammed. The stress is getting to us and we're going down like ninepins. I'm even too busy to study the stress management leaflets clogging my pigeon-hole. Perhaps it's time I did.

I must keep upright and a hold of my wits until 65, as we appear to be in ever shorter supply. The first leaflet concerns the body. I am urged to get "match-fit" for the classroom - to "find the six pack" within. Never had one. I nearly did when I was boxing. It helped you survive combination punches. I was 17. I'm now in the twilight years and had rather anticipated it not being one of the teaching requirements.

I am also urged to jump about, pump things and burn that fat. I can get quite enough of this carting the curriculum around in wheelbarrow and bucket to my several distantly-placed classrooms.

Or I could run marathons, bike to coastal resorts - or go in-line skating. This might do something for the pulse but I can't see it doing much for the gravitas as I zoom past the smoking 10th-years on my mountain skates - or for the teaching.

The pecs and abs and biceps might be bulging but I can't see how this facilitates delivery of the literacy hour. Do I swing down into the classroom yelling, "Come on then, if you think you're hard enough!" Isn't there a drift away from this sort of thing? There is one final piece of advice: "Smile, even when it's hard!" It makes you want to break things.

A second leaflet addresses the mind. Am I "committed to less stress?" It is an invitation to a workshopbrain-stormthinktank. "Andy" will address "real world behaviour management - learning sanity in the classroom". The longer you gaze at this stuff, the less it means. Friends deem it light comedy - is this less stress?

I've never been sure if any school belongs in a real world more a parallel bonkers universe. Andy will "model language patterns and belief systems"... After 20 years of teaching how can I be seduced by this? There's managing real world behaviour and dealing with the whims of Dave Mania on a wet Thursday afternoon. Dave is probably too fast for Andy, and his language patterns. He's certainly too quick for mine.

I'm not paid to attend this function - I pay Andy pound;143. You could get the Phil Spector boxed set and still have change.

It's not easy to see what the third leaflet might concern, but it is free. Another invite - to an in-service training day on keeping the stress out of either "performance management targets" or "managing targets of performance" or "targeting performance management". Never trust a sentence with any of this dread trinity.

A woman from the ministry arrives. She drones out a weedy apology for gossips and sneaks who will divide and rule us. This makes us ill. She utters words such as "input", "embrace" and "empower". You feel like ringing Teacherline. She gets a lot of money to say these things - we could buy a roof, books or a jukebox. All this stress management drives me nuts.

There seem to be two options left: The loony ticket: go bonkers and get a reward. Perching in a tree in pink pyjamas yelling: "The man from OFSTED - he say yes!" might fetch up to 40 grand... or chanting national curriculum levels in shop doorways might get you the straitjacket or an offer of the "golden handcuffs"... Or you could come to my workshop of a Sunday night at The 100 Club. We will be modelling Zoot Suits and dancing shoes.

An evening of authentic, Hollywood-style Lindyhop or a Cajun two-step: pedagogically useless but you won't get stressed, or managed - an unreal world for a tenner. And there won't be a questionnaire afterwards. You might even be fit for a classroom.

Ian Whitwham teaches at a London comprehensive


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