These days, being a secondary school teacher on the wrong side of the tracks is no picnic. Unwelcome pressure seems to press down on you in various ways. Firstly, there are the children. Although the majority of them remain lovely, there's a sizable minority who just don't give a damn. It's in their genes as one downtrodden generation of under-achievers produces another, more mouthy and more pig-headed than the last. They arrive at school without pens to write with, spouting foul language, without bags to carry their work in and worst of all without inquisitiveness or hunger for knowledge and self-improvement. Sadly, such losers will invariably have a massive influence upon the general ethos of a school.
Next there's the internal politics. You get innovative headteachers who care more about the latest bandwagons and their personal reputations and next career steps than they do about the children in their charge. Their underlings vie for position like hungry ducks in a pond - spouting the latest jargon, upholding the old managerial philosophy - "Do as I say, not as I do!"
Then there are the various tentacles of government. Local authorities find themselves squeezed to do better - get up the league tables. Their officers visit schools with laptops and serious expressions - confirming targets, demanding action plans and post mortems. In addition there's the dreaded OFSTED with its army of former teachers eager to submit their claims for expenses and feather their retirement nests as they move from school to school making snap judgements in the name of "standards". The National Strategy people churn out documents and ring binders, changing their strategy as they go along, somehow expecting magical things like the cascading of their multitudinous bullet points and Powerpoint slides.
The latest weapon is "The National Challenge" in which schools in areas of deprivation find themselves pilloried for failing to meet the baseline expectation of 30% of youngsters achieving five grade C's including English and Maths. There are no leafy suburban schools in the "National Challenge" hit list - just schools like mine, struggling on the edges of huge council estates to bring out the best from their pupils - poring over spreadsheets, chances graphs and league tables.
So much of it stinks. I have been teaching for over thirty years - the last fourteen as head of department. I cannot tell you the number of extra hours I have put in to the job - in my holidays, late at night, at weekends, during non-existent lunch hours. Today, very typically, I left work at 6.45pm, having started at 8.15am - that's ten and a half hours! And the same tomorrow no doubt. It's pride and my reasonable income that have kept me going this far. Inside, I have often been tortured by the job, waking up in the middle of the night to replay incidents. Most recently I have felt physically affected by it all - as if my essential life force is being sapped away.
There's that saying isn't there - if you can't stand the heat - get out of the kitchen... Well that's what I have decided to do - make it through to next summer and then out. I have told the Ice Maiden headteacher herself. I don't know what next September will hold but I'll get by. I fancy being the paint man at B&Q or driving a white van around the country but I guess I will end up still stuck in the nightmare world of education - a bit of supply teaching here, some college work there - just to garner more funds to keep life comfortable and continue to support our two kids. But those other pressures will be gone. Surely, I have done my time. I've got to go.