Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I'm just a marketable educational resource, me

I'm out in the world of job hunting again. It happens around this time every year. I realise that I want something else and start looking for it. Usually, I get very close but don't quite get anything (cf. my two interviews, last year and the year before, at the same college - I came in a close second on both occasions). This year, it could be argued, I have more motivating me than previously. Not only have I been here three years, moving as far up the career ladder here as anyone of my age can, but I've also been ill, tired and less than interested for about the past six months. It's not just that I think I've moved on. It's more that I'm looking for a different role, a different way of contributing, than I can find for myself here.

So, I'm busy applying to, well, everywhere. One interesting aspect of applications, and one that I'm very aware of, is the comparison I can draw between different educational institutions in terms of their equal opportunities policies. I have two application forms that I'm currently working on. One asks you state everything that may in some way prejudice you in shortlisting - gender, ethnicity, disability, even name - on the first page, which will then be detached from the rest of the application; they will judge you on nothing but your qualifications, career history and personal statement. The other, in frightening contrast, includes a long, detailed questionnaire in which they ask you to detail every illness and visit to the doctor you have had in the last five years, and for many conditions they expect you to say whether you have ever experienced it (and of course, mental health conditions come under this category).

Now, I don't know the Disability Discrimination Act in enough detail to be sure, but I can't believe that the second college is allowed to collect quite this much information on my health and disability status before they've even met me. Their claims that the information will not be used during the shortlisting process sound rather hollow when it's being collected at application stage. At my current place of work, I was asked (some of) these questions after I was appointed; all they asked beforehand was whether I was disabled and whether I would require reasonable adjustments for the interview process.

My other concern is how legal any of this is, at all. Do I not have a right not to disclose my disability? Although I always would, for my own protection, I'm sure that I can legally choose not to. Who decides which organisations can ignore this right? And are some educational establishments really allowed to sack people (they threaten this on the questionnaire) for non-disclosure? It all seems extremely un-inclusive to me.

So I shall apply to both these educational institutions, although I may find myself deciding that the second college doesn't really have the equal opps environment that I look for in a place of employment - because, frankly, if this is how they treat disabled applicants then I wonder how they respond to disabled staff members and, more importantly, students. I have this feeling, though, that one of these places is going to go out of their way to accommodate me and the other isn't. And I think that's fine with me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

There's stress, but there's also pudding

Yes, well.

The day started badly when I left the house at 8am and didn't get to work until 10, as we were rerouted past my station and through several others on account of a 'defective train'.

Then, because asking to use my lunch hour for lunch would have been just plain rude, I had to sit through a 1pm meeting about an intensely stressful week that's coming up at work. And it only served to increase the stress. Suffice it to say that everyone in my staffroom wants to kill either each other or themselves; both, in many cases. I, due to recent illness, do not have to take part in the activities that are causing such episodes of insanity for everyone else. I am still losing my mind.

After some teaching (sometimes I remember that's my actual job), there was another meeting at which my students' coursework results were disparaged by someone more important than me. The results are not finalised yet, but they look extremely good - and last year mine were the best of seven classes. I still managed to feel belittled. Interesting.

Because I haven't stopped working since Monday morning, except to eat and sleep (and not much of that), I decided that I would have an evening off. The volume of work I have to do in the next two weeks is still scaring me, but I have managed to switch off. A bit. You can probably tell.

On the good side of things, the highlight of my day was a particularly delicious pudding. Glass? Half empty? Of course not...

Did you get our calls?
Are you still punching walls?
I don't see you around no more
By and by it's gone - but not if you rewind it...

Currently on repeat: Morning Runner

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Rollercoaster rides

Quite brief thoughts follow, largely due to complete exhaustion after all of three hours of very disturbed sleep last night.

Last night involved a truly fantastic Morning Runner/New Rhodes gig, although enjoyment of it was a bit marred on account of how I wasn't quite 'all there' and kept having to disappear off into corners. My current theory is a mild case of hypomania that, now that I think about it, has probably been affecting me all week. I was certainly crashing from something when I had a completely irrational panic attack at the end of the evening.

Anyway, I'm currently focusing on the amusing side of this incident, which is how surreal it feels to be teaching Robert Frost and aspects of language change when you're absolutely convinced you're about to fall asleep on your feet. I don't think I sat down once, for fear of passing out. I even stayed vaguely coherent. Such a professional.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with important work-type people in which I shall raise the slight possibility that I might just be a teeny little bit stressed.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brain chemicals and fundamentalism - some light-hearted thoughts for the morning

There are days - just occasionally, mind - when I quite enjoy the bumpy fairground ride that is bipolar disorder. Today, for instance, I'm buzzing around the department like a very buzzy little thing (this regardless of the fact that I'm still sick of being overworked, bored with marking and tired out from unenthusiastic classes), feeling chirpier and more energetic than I have since December, when I got ill. It's pleasant. Hurrah for brain chemicals, at least when their effects are mild and useful.

Of course, this sudden cheeriness isn't actually encouraging me to work. I have spent the past hour perusing blogs and considering freedom of speech, particularly in terms of things like these thoughts on employers who limit their workers' opportunities to speak out. While it can perhaps be argued that there are jobs and situations where issues of security outweigh individuals' rights to write - not keen on the idea of an MI5 employee referring to classified operations, for example - it nonetheless seems that this excuse could be used to clamp down on important social criticism.

In not-unrelated thoughts, the flatmate and I watched this last night (on my tiny portable TV with the bad reception, since our incompetent cable company have ruined our viewing enjoyment). Now, it's possible that there was bias in the programme's aims, and I'd like to hear more of 'the other side' from those who work at the schools. Still, as someone who used to be an evangelical fundamentalist (and it feels a lot like I had a lucky escape from a cult there), the claims made in the programme rang some quite terrifying bells for me. What worried me most was seeing that the government is allowing groups who preach bigotry, hatred and some fairly blatant lies to run secular schools. I'm not opposed to faith - I'm still a committed Christian, after all. It's the literalistic, right-wing control of thought and belief that I see in fundamentalism, and its creeping influence in secular society, that I object to. I also have no problem with people taking the Bible literally, as long as they don't impose those ideas on others. I don't even object to faith schools, if parents have chosen to send their children there. But when such extreme ideas are mixed in with the National Curriculum and taught to children as fact, in local comprehensive schools where parents are sending their children to receive a state education, then as both an educator and a proponent of equal rights, I can't keep quiet about it. Especially since I know first-hand what kind of effect these ideas can have on young people. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to rework my thought processes on some very damaging ideas, relating to everything from homosexuality to heaven and hell. Not everyone who's exposed to these ideas will get the chance to challenge them for themselves.

Any opposing views on this one? I'd love to debate it.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I think I may be addicted to Marks and Spencer's light and creamy raspberry cheesecake.

After just one exposure to it, too. I've eaten most of it on my own, and there was quite a lot. It may well be the best dessert I've ever tasted. Which is saying a lot, when I've given up chocolate for Lent and should be really missing hot fudge cake and Cadbury's mousses by now.

Having spent most of the day completely avoiding work, while getting increasingly stressed-out by the thought of it (symptoms of stress include shouting at one's girlfriend, bursting into tears for no obvious reason and random complete exhaustion in the middle of the day), it does now seem that I've managed to get through some of the workload and survive it. I just needed a bit of, well, help to get myself through it.

I'm now trying to look at the cheesecake incident (along with all the other crap I've been shovelling down my throat during my marking marathon) in a positive light, since one girl's binge-eating session is another girl's creative way of dealing with stress that simultaneously avoids self-injury and allows her to enjoy a deliciously creamy cheesecake. See? Everyone's a winner. Well, I am, at least. In the sense that I've finished the marking. When I put back on the three excess kilos that I've made a real effort to lose this month, I might be a bit less happy about it.

Still, it was a truly marvellous cheesecake.

In other news, I'm watching Planet of the Apes (bad remake of 2001). Does anyone know what that ending was about?

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Really very tired. At 7pm I was sitting at my desk, surrounded by crap and complaining loudly in the direction of Long-Suffering Co-Teacher who sits next to me that I'm going to have a nervous breakdown, and then I'll need another six weeks off, and then they'll be sorry. (She looked worried and asked if it was an emotional moment and whether she should go away.) I'm not entirely sure who 'they' are, these faceless corporate oppressors on whom I'm blaming my stress and workload, but clearly they have a lot of sway in my workplace. I'm not sure they're entirely supportive of my dedicated student-centred philosophy, either.

Back at home, I've spent the rest of my (quickly disappearing) evening wading through coursework drafts (3000 words each, and there are a lot of them). The deadline is Tuesday. The students have had many, many weeks to give me drafts. I warned them that this would happen, oh yes I did, and lo! it has happened. Only three years of teaching and already I'm a clairvoyant. Lucky me.

The teacher with whom I share this wayward class has been on compassionate leave for a week. I can hardly complain about this, since I've recently been off for a big chunk of time myself, what with the crazy post-viral weirdness (medical term) that decided to attack my system in seriously odd ways just as my brain was starting to sort itself out a bit. No, my issue is the way that I have reacted to his absence, and to the barefaced abuse of the system by our students. Because it was only when I was onto draft number nine of twelve that it occurred to me that I'm not only doing my own marking; I'm also marking stuff that is technically his to deal with. Students, despite the ever-decreasing number of hours until their shining academic careers implode completely, have dumped this work onto my desk in the naive hope that I will do something to rescue them. In a fanastic demonstration of equal stupidity I have just spent three hours doing exactly that. Ah, see how the education system runs on mass idiocy.

It's possible, just possible mind you, that some of my massive workload and runaway stress is my own fault. I'm a perfectionist. I can't help it. (That's where the obsessive compulsive tendencies come from, too, I reckon. Self-analysis: we can all join in the fun!) I take hours to mark each set of essays, and am then surprised, every time, when the student glances at the mark and fails to read the seventeen lines of comments I've left at the bottom of the page. I volunteer to give talks to other teachers' classes about Acts of Parliament that I know something about, because it's a nice thing to do. I ring the parents of problem children and spend half an hour listening to them explain all the convoluted reasons as to why it really really isn't little Johnny or Jane's fault that they've just missed a week's worth of lessons. Eventually, when I have finished beating myself into a messy pulp over my latest (very small) mistake, I end up sobbing in the corner of the coffee room, as indeed I was this evening before I lost it with poor Long-Suffering Co-Teacher. Does any of this make me a better educator? Well, no, I don't think it does. I may be a teacher, but I'm not that stupid.

But perhaps, as NatWest would have it, there is another way. Perhaps I don't have to give in every single time to my disproportionate sense of work-related guilt. I could be that little bit nicer to myself, that little bit less ridiculously conscientious. I could persuade myself not to work all evening. I could give myself breaks occasionally. I could refuse to mark work that technically belongs to other teachers, as I eventually did this evening (mostly because my brain was threatening to get up and walk out if I marked one more bloody piece of bloody coursework). I mean, I ask other people to respect the fact that I can't do quite as much as they can, or work as fast, or balance as many commitments, or take on as many responsibilities. And generally, 'they' don't have a problem with that.

So why then, I have to wonder, do 'I' find it so difficult to be just as accepting of my limitations?