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?

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