A bit too trippy

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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.

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8 thoughts on “A bit too trippy

  1. This rings so true for my twenty years of experience in a middle school (ages 11 – 14, give or take) in the U.S.

    Now I want to know how that conversation between Amarjit and Andrea goes!

  2. As a music teacher who runs trips, I guess I am one of the baddies here. But there is a difference between contact time with children over a weekend and marking essays over a glass of wine in your own home. Both are work, both should be acknowledged and rewarded, but any teacher that is spending their weekends with young people is going above and beyond – it isn’t simply part of their job. But you are right that the idea that you don’t have to do your school work because you have been on a trip is simply wrong – you need to catch up!

  3. Sounds familiar, esp. the last two paras. I’d also add that The Sarcastic Biscuits would make a great name for a rock band…

  4. It sounds like higher ed, honestly. No, we don’t do field trips very often (aside from fields like geology, ecology, etc.) but even at teaching-focused schools (i.e. schools where research is not the biggest part of how faculty are evaluated) running Special Programs is valued more than time in the classroom.

    My school just gave its highest teaching award to a guy who rarely teaches, spends most of his time running Special Programs, and when he does teach he brags about how students can pass his class without reading books.

    Because the world is doomed. That’s why.

  5. I can’t hold a test on Friday anymore. Half of my students are guaranteed to be away that day on various sports and other extra-curricular trips. Most do not make any effort to catch up or ask me to re-teach it on my lunch hour (which is actually not an hour). Some use the fact that they missed as some kind of excuse for not doing well and not understanding. Lord, give me strength to get through to the end of June.

    1. I hear you. Loud and clear.

      “So, could we have the test on Monday?”
      “….. excursion.”
      “Tuesday?”
      “High Resolves.”
      “Wednesday?”
      “Welfare day.”
      “Thursday?”
      “Zone Cross Country.”
      “Friday?”
      “Oh, do we really want to give them a test last period Friday?”

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