It was Monday morning briefing. Some teachers had the blues. Others pressed themselves deeply into the springs of the staffroom sofas, ready to propel themselves forward just as soon as the talking stopped, keen to catch piles of photocopying or set-up their classrooms.
Daniel, an Assistant Headteacher, was second to speak. And he had a list of thank-yous. Daniel wished to thank the teachers who had taken a trip to London zoo last Wednesday, as well as the staff involved in the Year 6 camp. Daniel wished to thank the teachers who had given up their weekend for drama rehearsals and to take students to a badminton competition in Hull.
Andrea silently seethed as Daniel unhurriedly smiled, joked and congratulated. Andrea was an English teacher. She too had given up her weekend, but she had done so in order to mark English essays. Nobody ever thanked her for this, just like nobody ever thanked her for the late nights spent planning lessons. That was okay. She wasn’t after thanks, but it irked her to hear others applauded who, like her, were just doing their jobs. Occasionally, over a sarcastic biscuit, she would comment to the other teachers in the English office that, “It would be nice to teach PE or drama: No essays and a round of applause every week.”
Amarjit measured every one of Daniel’s words. Amarjit was the new headteacher, appointed just last summer after the old headteacher, a clubbable fellow who was something of an institution after twenty years running the school, had finally decided to retire. It was the old headteacher who had appointed Daniel as an Assistant Headteacher five years ago and Amarjit knew that Daniel saw himself as the conscience of the school.
Amarjit also knew that the school was coasting, and in the wrong direction. The parents, a reasonably affluent mix of tradespeople and professionals, loved all the trips the school ran. They would happily and regularly dip into their pockets to fund activities week, summer trips to theme parks, camps, one-hundred-and-one curriculum-themed excursions, sporting commitments and the legendary ski trip (teachers: apply in writing to the head of PE and if he likes you then you might get to go along), but all of these events ate into curriculum time. And it wasn’t as if the culture was such that students who missed a lesson would move heaven and earth to catch-up. The regular school day was a neglected default; a foundation on which to build more important things. And it showed in stagnant academic results.
And Amarjit knew that the school motivated its staff to focus on the wrong things. If you wanted recognition then forget doggedly planning lessons and sharing resources with your colleagues; forget the curriculum. Instead, organise yet another trip or run a camp. That was how to be noticed. That was how to forge a career. Everyone knew that Daniel wasn’t much use in the classroom; that he often arrived late to his own lessons, disorganised. But that didn’t matter.
As Daniel’s congratulations finally drew to a close, Amarjit looked over at Andrea and noticed the seething expression on her face. Suddenly aware that she was being observed, Andrea looked down, embarrassed.
‘I must have a chat with Andrea,’ Amarjit thought.