29th June 2001 at 01:00
I have a theory, or rather I have appropriated one; all right, I stole it. It's called the domino theory, and if there is anyone left in the profession under 50, may I tell you it dates from the 1950s when the battle for our democracy was being fought in the forests of Vietnam. If you want more - and more informed - background, you can watch the new version of The Quiet American.

My setting is more prosaic and nearer home. I teach in Hull - sorry, Kingston-upon-Hull. It used to be famous for fish and rugby league. Now it is best known for being bottom of the school league tables. The consequence of this naming and shaming is that no one wants to work here. To be more specific, no one applies for jobs at my school, certainly not in my department, except for a few who already work in Hull.

When two heads of English were recently appointed, they were sideways moves; now we have two schools with no head of English for September. To "outsiders", all schools are tarred with the same brush, and despite my school's rising performance in examinations, still no one wants to work here. Domino one toppled.

Last term, one of our staff had a heart attack, during school time. Fortunately, it was not serious. He's two years older than me with children who are contemporary with mine. Do I feel domino two wobbling as I wonder about my health? I've only been off twice in 28 years - once for flu and once for appendicitis in my 40s.

Like foot and mouth, disease seems to be spread on the wind, and now we have four long-term absentees where we rarely had any at all. Domino two well and truly tumbling.

At Easter, another in my department left and we have not been able to find a replacement until September. Meanwhile, the pressure is building on the remaining staff. A parent asked when her daughter is going to have a permanent English teacher. I'm tempted to tell her to phone Estelle Morris and ask her. Crisis? What crisis?

On my timetable at the beginning of the year, I had 19 teaching periods a week; until the Year 11s left I was teaching 26. Domino three nudged by its neighbour.

Supply teachers are coming to us and struggling valiantly, but they naturally have questions and concerns. Too many pupils are having too many untaught, unstructured lessons. Discipline is suffering and disaffection rife.

One of my lessons this week was interrupted 15 times by children sent with quite legitimate reasons. My Year 9 group is 36-strong. My own lessons are beginning to suffer. I feel the third domino spinning.

We ran lessons after school for Years 9 and 11 to have extra preparation for GCSE or SATs - nothing compared to the hours put in after school by technology staff who are finding it impossible to complete coursework in classes of 25. On consecutive Saturdays, I ran revision classes for Year 11s across the city. What's happened to my leisure time? I'll never get my golf handicap down at this rate. Domino three falls.

When the assessor for the threshold award visited school, I discovered I was one of the lucky 10 who had to provide evidence. This entailed a considerable amount of extra and needless work. Now the exams are over and, theoretically, I should be able to catch up with all the work I have been neglecting while I was doing someone else's job. Some chance.

I've taken over a top set Year 10, organised a trip to France, attended condescending and futile meetings about the English framework, and literacy, and watch in horror as my golfing gets worse.

Domino four is looking unbalanced and I think that I might be domino five. I tell myself that I will never abandon my pupils. I hope they don't abandon me when I'm rushed into hospital after being crushed by falling dominoes.

Kevin Fitzsimons is head of faculty in a north of England comprehensive .

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