The yellow striped buzz of ambition

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Is there a swarm of wasps in your staffroom? Not the insect variety but rather human wasps (Wannabees Actively Seeking Promotion). This species is easily identified. They use the latest buzz-words. Self-praise is doled out in large dollops in all the right places with a honey-sweet tongue. Not content with paddling their own canoes they have attached an outboard motor to accelerate promotion.

At a recent in-service entitled "Preparing for Promotion", 36 Wasps were informed that their career ambitions depended on three things: knowledge, skills, attitude. The first two are straightforward and can be objectively assessed but what is the correct attitude? Critical analysis of policy papers and current fads may be frowned upon. When I was a student teacher I recall questioning mixed-ability teaching and being firmly put in my place. Whole-class lessons were dismissed by the trendies. Even to suggest that each teaching method had its place was heresy. Today New Labour is under pressure to return to "traditional" teaching in order to improve national academic achievement levels.

Too often the "correct" attitude is sycophantic subservience - blind loyalty is a plus. On questions regarding Higher Still and 5-14 interviewees know the answers expected of them. It is similar to filling in those personality "tests" in magazines where you know the "correct" answer but your true response is not available. To deviate from the norm and, God forbid, challenge assumptions is career suicide.

According to current thinking, promotion is attained through self-promotion. Being a successful classroom teacher is not enough. Spout forth your pupil pass rates at every opportunity and develop dementia when asked about failures. Short of sporting a spinning bow-tie, get yourself noticed. Become an unpaid bouncer at the school disco. Wear a badge at school functions when representatives of the directorate (and in Catholic schools the hierarchy) are likely to be present (cringe factor 10). Stomp outside the headteacher's door wearing football boots to alert him to the fact that you are getting involved in extracurricular activity (team talks along the lines of "we must win this game boys. My APT guidance post depends on it").

Why seek promotion? It brings benefits which few will admit. First, more non-class contact time (quality time?), and teaching time is usually with a biddable, motivated HigherCSYS class rather than a pesky Foundation section. It is accepted practice in many schools for promoted staff to award themselves an upper schools timetable (check your master timetable for details). Senior promoted staff members may have photographs of their families on their office desks. The more honest ones have snaps of pupils to remind themselves that they are in a school.

Second, the nouveaux riches can buy an upmarket car and forego the pleasures of travelling by public transport whereby one has to dress down and carry jotters in a Safeway bag to avoid being outed as a teacher. Depending on the level of promotion you may even be given a special parking space. Third, increased status. In my own school the trays of the promoted staff (which unexpectedly include the chaplain, librarian and "John the Jannie") are approximately seven metres from the foot soldiers'.

There is a downside to moving up. Responsibility. Pupil-weary classroom teachers who are too old to be enticed by the carrot and unafraid of the "stick" will give you as much support as a rubber crutch. Far from being the master of a tight ship the "skipper" can quickly become a single-handed yachtsman sailing a sea of paperwork, the albatross of managing the department hanging around his neck.

The whole promotion game is a lottery though few have the balls to admit it. Given that most graduates can write a convincing CV and fill an application form, what is there to differentiate them? The bonus ball is the headteacher's report, which brings us back to the "correct" attitude. The sting in the tail is that naked ambition is being promoted and rewarded.

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