Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Forgive Us Our Absences

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Forgive Us Our Absences

Article excerpt

Has there ever been a profession more steeped in martyred self-loathing than the exercise in herding bees along a tightrope that is teaching? When I worked in bars and restaurants, you had to leash employees to their lockers to make sure they turned up. Calling home to get them in for extra shifts was like negotiating peace in Crimea.

With many other waiters to pick up the slack, the temptation to bunk off at the first sign of inclement weather/good afternoon telly proved irresistible to many. I once had to discipline a bartender who rang in sick but later turned up live on television in the audience of Kilroy.

Turn to teaching and this paradigm is shaken like a snow globe. I've never known professionals more beggared by duty than the army of mavens who turn up to school and pull at the oars come what may. Some might think teachers are as partial to the odd snow day as anyone else, but I assure you it isn't so. One pilgrim I worked with left home two hours early on train-strike days, and even earlier during big freezes, just to make it in on time.

And we're the absolute worst when it comes to walking wounded, ferrying our bugs across town despite all sense telling us to park ourselves on the nearest sofa and pull the sympathy chain.

I've recently been the privileged concierge to a new baby in Bennett Mansions (and if I thought before that mothers deserved a medal for their biological gymnastics, now I'd recommend nothing less than the Victoria Cross). So I had the unusually good reason of paternity to beg off for a couple of weeks. And yet, even then, amid the joy and the gory glory of fatherhood, I'm racked and prodded by the ghosts of guilt about missing classes. …

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