According to Prospect’s review of his latest book, the right-wing academic Roger Scruton apparently is bemoaning the rise of the managerial class. If it’s even getting to him, then there’s hope for the rest of us.
I sat in my classroom this afternoon on one of my rare non-contact periods and marked the books of a class new to me. Their work was, to put it mildly, uninspiring. The majority of my comments concerned incorrect spellings and punctuation, sloppy presentation of work and those who had tried to get away with minimal homework. The content of most of this middle-ability class’ geography left me with the impression of complete indifference, and minimal engagement with the world around them. At best, there was a basic level of compliance; I need time to sort this out.
As I have only seen this class about four times, this is hardly down to low expectations on my part, and a number of the children will have to do some of the work again. While this left me feeling somewhat dispirited, no matter, this is what I go to work to rectify. I try to capture children’s interest in the world around them, and help them to understand it better. I work pretty hard in order to do this, spending innumerable hours developing and updating resources and marking books with encouraging comments (where possible). There are worse ways of passing a working day. I even go home in the evening and do more of it, often at the expense of other commitments and priorities in my life.
But before I could do this today, I had to spend an hour having a new raft of regulations, ‘procedures’ and bureaucracy imposed on me from above. It is not sufficient that I do my best to teach well and judiciously tackle issues such as that described above; it is also necessary that I conform to the latest of the ever-shifting templates for assessment and recording, that I deploy various coloured bits of paper of others’ choosing on my feedback, that I use a certain colour of pen for peer assessment, have various stickers on my cupboard doors, and that I feel threatened because “others will be checking” that I have done these things. It is absolutely essential that I enter data at imposed intervals into various spreadsheets so that people can check that I am doing it, that I meet deadlines for showing people that after twenty-seven years I am able to devise a scheme of work – and that said scheme absolutely must be laid out using the approved pro-forma.
Despite the class’ indifferent work, I was reasonably content until 3.15 today. I had decided what to do about the slacking pupils and had a plan of work for this evening. The meeting left me (and at least one colleague) feeling utterly despondent. I don’t blame the person leading it: I know full well that many people in such positions don’t feel any better about it than I do – they are simply obeying orders from more layers of management above.
Any trawl around the internet will yield people talking about the disastrous effects of meetings on morale, of which this is just one. There have even been some in the edu-blogosphere recently, but unfortunately I don’t have time just now to go hunting for them.
All I want to do is to go to work each day and do the best job I can for my pupils. I know how to teach my subject, and how to build good relationships with them – which is all I suspect most of them really want. I have no wish to dictate to others how they should do their work – and I have no wish (or need) for them to be doing the same to me. I would also like to have some time at the end of the day for my own life, without people making every job needlessly complicated by adding extra layers of pointless bureaucracy to it. I most certainly do not need people with lighter teaching loads telling me what else I need to do.
Scruton is right: the rise of managerial class has too often proved to be a curse on the rest of us; it exists purely for the exercise of power and has nothing to do with our core activity. It constrains our ability to make reasonable decisions about how we function and more often than not, it actually obstructs our doing the very work our managers say they want done well. What I needed today was nothing more than more time to work through that lazy class’ books and ensure that I am ready for them next lesson.
Instead, I returned home in a foul mood (most unlike me) and am now writing this instead. As John Tomsett wrote recently, the best thing that managers can do for their pupils is to create a contented staff. Why do so many managements seem to forget this? And the most sure-fire way to do the opposite is to have needless meetings the purpose of which is imposing even more pointless bureaucracy that has nothing to do with learning and everything to do with big management. I don’t know whether it’s cock-up or conspiracy – but the effect is the same. We have more important things to spend our time on.
One might hope that by now I would have got used to this problem – but it is getting worse. One can scarcely breathe without micro-management. I am not normally given to unconsidered, knee-jerk reactions, but I could have happily walked out of the profession by 4.30 today. Some days management just drives me demented.
But I suspect I’m not alone.