Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Pointlessness of It All! Ode to another wasted weekend.

I have spent almost all of this weekend engaged in the most ridiculous counter-intuitive inexplicably pointless non-educational unhelpful act - the only saving grace of it, and the one thing that prevented me from gouging out my own eyes in Starbucks, was the fact that I have been able channel this tsunami of rage into something fruitful, as a result of reading a remarkable essay.

Like some prank turd under the Christmas tree, I discovered on Friday that the student teacher who had been working with me had left me with over a fortnight’s worth of unmarked Maths books. Not only are they unmarked, but the work in them is repetitive ridiculous tasks such as pages and pages of

73% of 3425 = ________ 28% of 18273 = ___________

Credit to the children, who are 8 and 9, they know how to do it but they just love to feed their filthy addiction to rote. Nothing gets them more excited than to fill 5 pages with ticks. For their hard-stretched teacher though, this means having to go through every individual bastard question in all 14 heinous pages of it. Marking one book has taken me on average 30 minutes.

And what’s more, it is not even work we are currently doing, so the kids won’t even really see it! Sure I stuck in a few AfL questions, sat on my left hand, picked up a HB and answered it myself, to appease my formative overlords, but it benefits the kids not a fucking jot.

Having this 390 pages of work to mark felt not unlike this.

It is his fault for neglecting the division of labour we agreed on, but it’s also mine for not supervising him closely and my school’s for not supporting me, and my line manager’s for not checking on me and blah blah blah...

Why am I even doing this though? Why, as I sit among couples in romantic embraces, families taking happy selfies and hipsters chilling out with their comics or whatever they do ... why am I hunched over, explaining again and again that 5% is not equivalent to 0.5, knowing full well that the kid knows this because I’ve already told them and we’ve practised it?

Here comes the bit that is juicy and makes me want to make a pyre for myself out of DfE press releases.

First of all, we are currently being instructed not to get too tinselly yet, and to remember that omnipresent phantasmagorical succubus, the wretched Ofsted. With every fatigued slip of handwriting, I think ‘is that writing Ofsted-ready’? When my heart tells me, just put a big dirty tick and say ‘You did quite well’ at the bottom of the page, I think ‘Will Wilshaw flay me?’ Good teaching is not of that mushy ‘care for them’. ‘help them question everything’, ‘fill them with curiosity’ variety – good teaching is whatever the fuck leads to getting their exercise books full of neat formulas and neat handwriting; both ours and the children’s.

Second of all, with the new era of performativity gripping into our every working practice, these workbooks become not a mere space in which children can explore and organise the wanderings of their imaginations.

No. Their exercise books become a Prelude to a P-45.

Not neat enough, that can become your Professional Development Target. Still no neater? Well we did try to support you...

Corridor whispers tell me that the Overlords are priming themselves for another staff cull, which means that the smorgasbord of wanky unmarked activities my mentee left for me, now become not only my problem, but the problem of those higher than me in the food chain, who are anxious to defend their position.

To continue piledriving metaphors onto the ragged number-filled tomes which remain beside me as I type, these Maths Books are like Poe’s ‘Telltale Heart’ which I cannot pretend to have not learned about only through The Simpsons, but now also through another frenetic cartoon. If I try to ignore the dreck the kids were instructed to write, or to pass it off nonchalantly as ‘not my problem’, it is like the books won’t allow it. Like their frayed edges creep towards me in my peripheral vision.

Poe knows.

No doubt I now grew very pale; --but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased --and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound --much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath --and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly --more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again! --hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

So I have spent 16 hours marking shit work in which the activities themselves are mathematically inaccurate, the kids produced reams of pointless unchallenging dross, any formative learning is unnecessary because I have already since smoothed over knowledge-gaps and now it is half past midnight on Sunday and I have to now plan for tomorrow.And none of this is for the kids. It is entirely to keep my head down while management channel the ‘spirit of Ofsted’ and march the corridors like some sort of Pyongyang prison.

At the start of this post I promised a link to a great essay. It is by Herbert Kohl and it’s around the ideas of teachers as hope-mongers. Right now, my only hope is that I don’t sleep through my alarm, so I’ll be lofty and inspirational another time.


  1. A late reply time, mark one child's work so you have the answers, give the mark sheet to the children and tell them to mark their oartner's work ( in green pen of course so it is clear it is per assessment) and where they have made an error, see if they can pinpoint their partner's mistake and explain to them how to correct it. That way, they learn something, you have less work and you have lots of evidence or peer assessment. Failing that, start new maths books and when ofsted come, hide their old books in the boot of your car!

  2. Typos.......partner's work........peer assessment

  3. I so much recognised the 'writing child's response in your weak hand' technique - used that one a number of times myself to get me out of a sticky book scrutiny situation!

    Please keep blogging! Your posts are so funny and insightful, and the internet REALLY needs more primary teacher bloggers - there is a sad lack. Do drop by my blog, at teachpeachpearplum!