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Torture for the time-poor

There are two types of people who should never, under any circumstances, come into contact with one another: people with time on their hands and teachers with pressures on their time. We belong to two incongruous worlds that need to remain apart, like the audiences for Radio 1 and Radio 4.

But last week these two worlds collided thanks to my running out of logs. For normal people this wouldn't be a problem. Normal people have combi boilers or night storage heaters, which they supplement with the occasional open fire. But because I'm a working-class woman with middle-class pretensions, an ineffective wood burner is the main source of heating in my house. And the chap who delivers my logs couldn't fit me in until Thursday.

Short of helping myself to a few of my neighbour's fence posts, the best option was to pick up a couple of emergency bags from the nearest retail outlet. Bizarrely, this is the National Trust: they're closer than my closest garage and charge a lot less for their wood.

The trip was an edifying experience. National Trust properties are packed with elderly volunteers who were once captains of industry but are now captains of tents selling annual direct-debit memberships and courgette and celery cake.

If you're a stay-at-home mum with two violin-playing toddlers and a husband with a good career, spending your day sauntering through the forests in the company of one of the National Trust's merry men may be more attractive than taking your children to playgroup - they won't come home with an accent and have less chance of picking up nits. But when you're a time-squeezed teacher like me, your visit has to be purposeful, productive and fast.

Alas, this was not to be. Thanks to the perfect storm of a Saturday wedding, a farmers' market and a trio of dithering dotards, I was held up for nearly an hour. It was excruciatingly painful. Watching the sands of your marking time avalanching away while three middle-class pensioners discuss which barcode is better for logs and which for kindling is enough to re-spark your interest in mandatory euthanasia. The more I prompted them to hurry, the longer they conversed.

My feelings of panic at being in such an alien, slow-moving world reminded me of a party I went to when I was young. After snorting speed, sniffing poppers and pogoing to the Sex Pistols, I inadvertently ended up in a back bedroom where everyone was listening to King Crimson and puffing from a bong. The nightmare has never left me.

The same car-crash collision of cultures sometimes happens in school when guest speakers arrive for assemblies. They fail to realise how manically time-squeezed teachers are and they never feel the rising tension of the coming bell. Hence they overrun, waxing lyrical about fund-raising initiatives, the Air Ambulance Service or their latest trip to Lourdes, while we silently urge them to finish quickly, like put-upon Friday-night wives.

Teachers shouldn't have to work with people who can't deliver on time. In teaching, every second counts. Before anyone is allowed in school they should be tested for their oratory alacrity. Since schools are the motorways of life, before you're permitted to join one you should have to prove you can keep up with the traffic. And if you can't deliver the Lord's Prayer in under five seconds flat, maybe your career should involve wearing an oak leaf and wandering around the woods.

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

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