Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Some craven scruple

Yesterday I paid a brief visit to my former place of employment (delicately put - no?). After some jolly staffroom socialising I went down to disturb a member of my own department at his marking, sitting in his mercifully empty classroom. We talked of how things were going, and I remembered the awful accumulation of marking that English teachers especially have to cope with at this time of year. No sooner have you finished one lot than you have to do reports for a quite different year group - and that's when you realise that you haven't had time to look at their work in months, because they're not sitting SQA exams and have had to be prioritised some way down the pile. So you pull out their folders and wade in desperation through perhaps three finished essays, all on different topics, and try to note down their progress as you go. Then you do the reports.
And by the time that's done you have - let's say - the Standard Grade prelim it's been decided to resit. Thirty assorted essays, some a page of pencil scrawl, some carefully-crafted and three pages long, some merely .... long. And totally unpunctuated.

If you actually paused to think about this, you'd lose the will to live. The only way to cope is to take each task as it comes, and view the completion of each as a small triumph. You must *never* think of the next bundle of work. Never. And that's what I've done for the past 23 years. Now that I don't have to do it any more, and, more importantly, have stepped far enough back to see what the job entails, I'm amazed. All that important work being done by intelligent people who have to work like automatons.

Notice that I haven't mentioned teaching here. Compared with the paperwork, teaching is fun. But I know that today there were only two demands on my time, one of which was the ironing mountain . The rest of the day I've pleased myself. And I've remembered how, from the age of 5, I've been aware of the pressures on people who were not allowed to stay at home with Mummy any more. Do you think if we thought about life at the age of 5 we'd never make it?

The snow is very wet underfoot today, but in the woods it is still beautiful. The trees, however, are like war-wounded, their limbs ripped from their trunks by the weight of Sunday's fall. Some of our usual paths are shut, with terse little notices saying "dangerous trees". Now there's a concept I did enjoy thinking about!

Oh - and the title is part of another quotation. In the absence of my dear friend Edgar, who *always* recognised my quotes, I'm looking for someone else to win the virtual Mars Bar. Clue: it's an important one!


  1. Anonymous7:51 PM

    Chris, I Dane’t know, but I might if I had not been guilty of thinking too precisely on th’ event.

  2. Consider yourself awarded the virtual prize, Walter - and a gold star for the wit of your expression!

  3. Poor wounded trees! It's a test of our agility to climb over them!

  4. Walter beat me too it! To eat the Mars bar or not to eat the Mars bar? That is the question...

  5. Anonymous8:25 PM

    Yip, the pressure is really on at this time of year. I'm working up my 12 Higher German students to their speaking exam. But tonight's supported study was a lesson I delight to give. They are given - on cards - all the questions they may be asked and work in pairs, asking each other. No teacher listening !! Up to that point they are really scared of the exam, but you should hear the fun they have asking and answering. It's so good to see and hear them relaxing into the task, even if their answers aren't great at this stage, and hey it is only me who knows that !

    Yeah, it is awful hard work but there are rewards. One of those moments in education.

    Ta for contacting Shona. See you soon. June

  6. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Duffy, I will go "haffens" (as we say in the Southern U.S.) with you on the Mars bar, so neither of us has to feel guilty about the calories, and half a Mars is better than half a loaf, right?

  7. It's a done deal Walter!