What keeps me awake at night - The tyranny of the inbox

26th August 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a senior leader at a school in south-west England

They are relentless. Sitting there waiting to be read, the subject line hinting at the horror within. All day and all night they arrive, and I'm constantly imagining a tinny voice calling out "You've got mail!" I lie in bed thinking about the emails that appeared on my screen that day and dreading the next wave of messages waiting for me in the morning.

It used to be that you just needed to address the paperwork on your desk or in your pigeonhole (which meant that if you weren't in school, you didn't have to deal with it). But then came the invention of email, meaning there was no place to hide. Twenty-four hours a day, weekends and holidays, your server is dutifully delivering your mail. Some messages SHOUT AT YOU. Others are URGENT. Some even require you to sign a receipt so the sender knows you have read it, making it impossible for you to use the excuse "But I never received it".

Of course, some people still like to leave you memos in your pigeonhole or on your desk - the thing is, they usually send an email telling you that.

Here are three emails I received in the final weeks of last term, from the hundreds in my inbox: "Hi, Sarah in Year 8 kicked off in my lesson this morning. I tried to sort her out but she then swore and stormed off. I think she should be excluded for her conduct so I expect her to not be in tomorrow, please pick her up this afternoon and sort her out."

I was attending a conference more than 100 miles away at the time. And, while I know emails travel at the speed of sound, I can't - so I was not sure how I would get back before the end of lessons. And, yes, the teacher did know where I was. She was covering my class.

"HI, I AM NOT HAPPY THAT MY SON WAS UNABLE TO COOK IN CLASS TODAY JUST BECAUSE HE FORGOT HIS INGREDIENTS. IT IS NOT FAIR THAT EVERYONE ELSE GOT TO COOK. I WOULD LIKE TO ARRANGE A TIME TO DISCUSS THIS WITH YOU ASAP."

So Jonny missed out on cooking a risotto. It wasn't even my lesson. This email came long after school closed on Friday evening. Over the weekend, I sent a message promising a full investigation into the incident. But that wasn't good enough. They had planned to eat Jonny's risotto for dinner and had no food in the house so mum was forced to buy a takeaway. I'm sure she was hoping I'd pick up the bill.

"Hi Sir, hav u checked my corsework yet?" This was sent after midnight by one of my students. I replied asking why they were up so late and did they think I did nothing but sit emailing all day and night? As I hit "send", I realised the sad truth: that pretty much is the case.

Tell us what terrifies you, or share the unscripted events from your classroom, and you could be paid #163;150. Email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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