What am I here for?

18th January 2013 at 00:00

It struck me recently - during one of those dismal January moods that arrives on New Year's Day and hangs around like an unwanted guest until term ends in July - just how overly complicated life has become. At one time everything was simple. Supermarkets sold groceries, phones made calls and teachers taught. Now, in some skewed, vainglorious pursuit of the renaissance ideal, we've become all things to all men.

Take supermarkets. Once upon a time they flogged a few bananas and 25 varieties of soup. But over the past decade they have morphed into a snug commercial onesie; the holy grail of a one-stop shop where you can buy everything from bifocals to spit-roast chickens, foreign currency, car insurance and weird knobbly vegetables that would fox even Heston Blumenthal. And on your way you are ambushed by carpet cleaners, recycling skips and garages selling Thinsulate gloves.

In fact, the only useful service that major supermarkets don't yet offer is to give your partner a blow job while you try on some shoes. But it's not like this diversification has improved the quality of our lives -insurance is cheaper elsewhere and their apples taste like plasterboard. It has just made it easier for savvy businesses to harvest all our money.

Supermarkets aren't the only ones pursuing this divide and rule principle. Recently I was at a 50th birthday party. When it came to blowing out the candles, everyone whipped out their smartphones to record the special event. Not so long ago we would have had huge SLR cameras slung around our necks with zooms the size of a horse's cock but nowadays we have switched to tiny mobiles. In this polymorphic world, it's not the quality that matters but the range of additional functions.

Mobiles do more things but less efficiently. Using a smartphone instead of a sole-purpose camera doesn't mean you take better photographs, it just means you take more. Which begs the question: how many high-angled, taken-from-above, pouting shots do we need before we drown in a pool of our own narcissistic dribble?

And schools are no better. The core business of the teacher is no longer teaching. Like everyone else, we have diversified our core product. As well as being the customary teacher, parent and social worker, we are now market analysts (second-guessing grade boundaries), hedge fund managers (aggressively managing portfolios of exam entries), accountants (double entry bookkeeping) and online pedagogical experts (teacher-blogs are as common as frogspawn and occasionally just as slimy). And, of course, the problem is that we don't all have the differentiated skill set to make this work. I love kids. I love English. I love teaching. But expecting me to deliver the rest of the business model is like entering the fat kid for the 100m sprint and expecting him to win a gold medal.

No wonder we feel demoralised - so would Michael Gove if you made him education secretary and then measured his performance on his ability to bake fluffy buns.

Teachers aren't like mobiles: you can't upgrade us with an app. Besides which, the wider your functionality, the faster you drain your batteries or crash at the first sign of a blip. And it's not just teachers who suffer, because every minute spent on these extra services takes a minute away from the pupils. Surely it's time to narrow our remit, get back to our sole purpose and save a few more souls?

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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