Talkback

24th March 2000 at 00:00
You all know the old joke: "Do I have to go to school? I hate the staff, the kids hate me, I can't do the work, everybody's horrible to me."

"Stop whining. Of course you have to go. You're the teacher."

Except that when you are living with it, it isn't funny. My husband was a good, committed teacher, a kind, funny man who relished a challenge and acquiring new skills.

But over the past few years he became a stressed, disillusioned insomniac. He was just the wrong side of 50 when the door closed on early retirement, and it became increasingly obvious that he was not going to stay in teaching until he was 60. The only real question was whether his physical or mental health would give way first.

So what happened to make his job intolerable? I suspect many of you know the answer to that too.

While not wanting to hold Chris Woodhead personally responsible (oh, what the hell, why not?), the Ofsted league-tabletarget-setting culture has demoralised an entire profession. Few teachers would now advise their pupils, let alone their own children, to follow their career path. A culture of fruitless complaining pervades the profession.

Pupils have changed, too. Boys in particular adopt a dismissive attitude to school. Even sixth-formers want to be spoon-fed just enough information to make their grades. Their social lives and part-time jobs take priority over school work. We have watched our own children carefully conceal their academic skills and ambitions t make themselves socially acceptable.

Teachers are being squeezed between an establishment that believes academic achievement is the only thing that counts and a youth culture that despises it.

Then there is the workload. The case of the teacher who recently won compensation, having been forced into early retirement by stress-related illness, must have brought a ray of hope to thousands.

My husband had repeatedly asked to have his teaching load reduced to enable him to cope with the increasing demands of the administrative and technical elements of his ICT role. Last year his teaching time was increased.

New technology meant the job had grown out of all recognition and enabled him to link his home computer (which we paid for) to his school computer, and work evenings, weekends and holidays. Even so, he could never quite keep pace. The stress of trying to do several jobs at once and doing none properly was finally too much for him.

This story has a happy ending. Against all the odds, my husband went over the wire at Christmas. He has a job with normal hours, cheerful colleagues and reasonable expectations. A cut in salary and the loss of the long school holidays seem a small price to pay. He is regarded with unconcealed envy by most of his contemporaries.

Research shows that most teachers would leave the profession given the opportunity, and it is increasingly difficult to recruit new teachers. This is no way to run an education system.


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