Lesson 99. A Cautionary Tale

Lesson 99 on Learning to be servile

I was lucky. I grew up with free state provided Cod Liver Oil and Orange Juice and a ration book controlled diet so I was healthy. I had to walk, run or pedal everywhere, so I was fit.  Relentlessly upbeat Pathe newsreels kept me ignorant of any nastiness in the world.

When I was old enough to buy my own clothes, it was the sixties and I could squander my full student grant on miniskirts and kinky boots. For the modest entrance fee at the local dance hall or jazz/folk club we could hear the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and the old blues singers touring from America.  Drugs were still a minority interest, so all you could do to harm yourself was get drunk, and we never had enough money to poison ourselves with alcohol.

On the work front, it carried the blessing that I was well into my fifties before I finally acquired a line manager.

You may wonder how the world functioned before everybody had line managers. In schools it was quite straightforward. You had a head teacher who appointed you, then said good morning if he/she bumped into you in the corridor. There was a deputy who organised things and ran around a lot doing most of the work. Then, if your school was big enough to have departments, you had a head of department who held meetings now and again and worried about how much paper you were getting through.

I didn’t have a line manager till my second post-early-retirement job.

When I first went to work in this office it was a cosy, homely place. All the old junk and furniture from the outgrown town hall premises had been moved into a soulless open plan block, so the areas had been divided up by ancient, tall metal filing cabinets with cardboard boxes of assorted items balanced on the top. I particularly remember a large soft toy tiger and the football scarves from when Bobby Moore’s England won the World Cup.

But then we were restructured!  We got line-managers, instead of just the old departmental head, who let you get on with things and trusted you to come to him if a problem arose.

I couldn’t really see the point of my line manager. She knew nothing about the actual work of our team and her only qualification to be in charge was that somewhere along the way she had risen to the next highest grade, so she got paid more.

Once in post though, she had to do something. So she meddled and micromanaged. And, from being the sort of work you could take a modest pride in, the job became a burden.

I could never work out whether she had been promoted beyond her ability or out of her own area of expertise, or if she was just nasty. Whatever it was, she made our life difficult.  We ran an efficient service. We knew our stuff and we kept up-to-date.  But now we had to fit into a whole new set of imposed management boxes. Our clients found us reliable and helpful, but their needs now came second to those of the system we had to operate.

Now there is a language for it, of course, but there wasn’t then. We were just bemused and unhappy.

But I was lucky. 

I was almost sixty before I finally encountered disempowerment.

Lesson 79 Babies and Bathwater

Lesson 79 on Disempowerment.

I’ve havered on about inspection, because once the tick box thing happened in education, good people who loved their work started to get stressed and the joy began to go out of it.

At Owen’s school one teacher refused to be intimidated – Miss Maverick. Her only compromise was to write things down in the agreed format, though I have my suspicions that she did not always stick rigorously to the lesson plans submitted for scrutiny.

Other teachers gave up some approaches they knew worked well with their pupils, because they didn’t fit in easily with government requirements.  When Ofsted was coming, you couldn’t afford to take any unnecessary chances.

It was most difficult with the youngest.  The sparkly new timetable covered every possible requirement and recommendation, but it was heavy going for all concerned.  Before, the day had been organised to take advantage of the times when pupils were at their brightest and reserve till after lunch the activities suitable for when they were less able to concentrate.  Now, in order to fit everything in, there wasn’t so much flexibility.

Mrs Reception was particularly dutiful in implementing to the letter everything recommended for her age group.  Some of it was an uphill struggle.  It hadn’t been designed with the needs of her pupils in mind. It didn’t suit their attention span or level of afternoon tiredness. At the end of one wearisome day, she turned to me in frustration.

” I know we’ve got to do all these things, but sometimes I wish I could just get on and teach!