Stop, I want to get off

15th November 2013 at 00:00

Every time I moan about changes in education, my husband shuts me up by saying, "Nothing stays the same." He offers me this truism like it's a box of Milk Tray, hoping his sweet-centred platitude will stop me grumbling about my job so he can get on with watching telly.

Change is difficult. Whereas young people buy into new ideas like they're the latest iPhone app, we oldies hang on to the past out of habit. But, in our defence, not all change is good. Take the growth of designer shopping malls in railway stations. Either we're now so materialistically incontinent that we can't be in a public space without needing to piss away our cash, or our moral compass is so skewed that we'd sooner try on maroon velvet knickerbockers than go home and play with our kids.

Teachers have to face more change than most. Since I joined the profession nine years ago there have been monumental shifts in our practice. For starters, we've moved away from demonstrating "tangible buzz" in the classroom (playing La Bamba and taping envelopes under chairs in an attempt to make coastal erosion seem like a murder mystery party) to the more ascetic "showing student progression" (a sequin-free, evidence-based proof of learning that would stand up in a court of law).

Thanks to this focus on visible learning as opposed to high-vis teaching, marking has also changed. Gone are the fuzzy formative judgements (the ubiquitous two stars and a wish); instead we have Kafkaesque written interrogations that take twice as long to administer as the actual homework took to write. It's a surreal system, and although it has a commendable aim - to get students to take responsibility for their own improvements - dialogic marking is undone by one small flaw. The query "Can you think of a more powerful word?" is often answered by a no.

But, ironically, in areas where we would welcome change, everything stays the same. Pressure is the ugly constant in a teacher's life. Once, it was subject to seasonal variations: it dropped off a bit after Christmas, then geared up again in spring, giving us the same productivity cycle as a Bernard Matthews turkey. But now we're being stuffed all year round and have fallen behind the giblets in the fight for public support.

Classrooms are hyperbaric chambers. Their high-pressure atmosphere is a perfect environment for learning, just so long as it doesn't cause our gums to bleed, our eyeballs to pop or our varicose veins to explode. Nor does the pressure drop after the inspectors have been. Gone are the days when you could sit back, slap each other on the back and let the kids glue their faces to the desks.

As Macbeth might ominously observe, "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty monitoring from day to day." Or, in the words of my husband, "Shit happens - now pass the remote."

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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