Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Hope Springs Eternal

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Hope Springs Eternal

Article excerpt

"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand," says Brian Stimpson, John Cleese's fastidious headmaster in the 1986 film Clockwise.

Exam season. Like passing a kidney stone, you desperately anticipate it at the same time as wanting it to be over. Except that you have 100 kidney stones and they're all shaped like Albania.

It's one thing they never warn you about when you're training to be a teacher: giving a monkey's. You'll care more than is reasonable about how your pupils fare.

Part of it is how their success reflects on you - and don't let anyone pretend to be so pious that they deny this. Unless you're heir to a fortune, as well as helping students you probably also teach to eat, pay bills and occasionally charge your smartphone. And recent changes mean that more and more teachers see their August bounty as a bottom line. Get the passes or kiss goodbye to dreams of shopping at Waitrose.

That's a given. But I've not met a teacher who isn't contorted with faith and despair as exam season approaches. And the feeling doesn't go away just because you have straight-A kids. Then you worry that they'll hit the bullseye perfectly (and it's far, far worse when they don't get the grade, because the gods of progression insist that it must be your fault).

If you teach low-ability kids, it's all far more of a gamble. The difference between a G and a D can be down to what was on telly the night before or the coincidence of exam questions matching the lessons they attended.

But you care right up to the finish line and beyond, despite the fact that to do so invites brutalising side effects. …

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