Too much paper, too little time

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Cassandra Hilland examines the prime importance of the waste paper bin.

As an NQT, the only paper I used was the "Jumbo Pad For 99p" variety you wrote your idealistic PGCE essays on just before the deadline.

I was quite fond of paper back then, but when you start your first teaching job your attitude alters forever. You can bet your bottom bullet point that by the end of your first term you'll have amassed enough bureaucracy to rival any year of PGCE handouts. At first you don't mind the memos, minutes and messages. Naively, you think staff are just friendly. And they must reckon you're really important, to actually write to you! The novelty quickly wears off. You realise that everyone writes to everyone, all the time. Their writing to you personally is nothing personal. The "importance" you had attributed to writing and paper takes a severe kicking. You start dreading the familiar spidery scrawl of your head of year, which you now know is shorthand for yet another pastoral problem.

NQTs often ask: "Why is there so much paper in teaching?" There just is. It's like trying to work out why there are so many old trainers on beaches, or paint shades with naff names.

Whatever the reason, it's tough for NQTs. As you snarl t circulars and rant about recycling, your colleagues smile benevolently: "Always write it down." What they mean is - if you write down what every difficult studentparentsituation doessaysimplies, you'll always have some kind of scribbled "evidence" at your fingertips. In fact, you'll write so much you'll have no fingertips left.

By the end of the first term your paper pile has grown into Handout Hill. This is when NQTs are most at risk of catching paperphobia. They suffer panic attacks whenever there is a bad paperfall up on Memo Mountain (it used to be their pigeonhole once upon a time).

There are various coping strategies. Every morning my PGCE mentor would empty his pigeonhole in the same briskly vacant way a dustman tips out bins. Junk mail was junked. Departmental documents were filed. Everything else was deposited in a massive red storage box he kept in his classroom labelled "Other".

So don't panic over "points to consider" or get ruffled by reminders. Screw all those negative emotions into a tight ball, and chuck them into the nearest bin. Paperwork is to teaching as Andrex is to loo roll - scrunchably soft, yet very, very strong and long.

Cassandra Hilland teaches at Farnham College, Surrey


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