Ambition, thy name is pestilence

My OH was talking this morning about how the school where she works used the government “catch up” funding. Last year, they ran summer schools for the new intake, and paid staff who volunteered to run sessions. This year, they want to do the same — but there’s no more money, so they’re asking staff to do it for free.

Now, I’m no mug, and I would never do this in a million years. I’ve fully taken on board the idea that I should act professionally at all times — and professionals get paid.

But one of the problems with the teaching profession is that there will always be people who will — for whatever reason — feel obligated to volunteer. Naiveté? Perhaps, but probably, mainly ambition.

The whole country knows by now what it’s like to be subject to somebody else’s ambition. The Prime Minister, who was never a person suited to high office, has achieved the top job by any means he deemed necessary: cheating, lying, backstabbing, more lying, bumbling, reality distortion (i.e. lying), and so on. And he is, because of course he is, determined to hang on to the job as long as possible, even though he’s terrible at it, even though he’s not that interested in even trying to do it properly, and even though it doesn’t pay very well in comparison to his old job.

Teaching is like this too. You get individuals in senior roles who are the very definition of The Peter Principle: promoted at least one level above their natural competency. So you get years of having to put up with them running meetings, making speeches, introducing initiatives, none of which have any impact or relevance. Ironically, the only way you get rid of them involves them getting another promotion, which means they will now be working two levels above their natural level. Good luck with that.

You might be one of those people who thinks ambition is a good thing. In the same way, perhaps, that people have got used to thinking of pride as a virtue rather than a vice, which is what it is. But ambition is a terrible thing: it’s simply an effect of pride, which is the worst of all the cardinal sins. I mean this in a secular way: but Christ, those who want to set themselves above others are the absolute worst. And you can spot them early: because they volunteer to work for free during the school holidays.

In education, ambition manifests itself as people “going for jobs” they are unsuited for. And in order to get those jobs, they have to suggest, at interview, all the things they will do if they get it. New initiatives, for example, which usually translates as some fad or trend they read about on the internet. And then, when they get the job, the rest of us are subjected to the new initiative they promised at interview. Which means, making the rest of us sit and listen to them as they witter on in meetings, and often fill in forms and bits of paper as a result. Everybody loves admin, don’t they? Never mind that they read about it in someone’s blog, or saw a thread on Twitter. Never mind that it’s almost certainly a load of wank, will be dropped inside a year, and will never bear what you might call fruit.

Teaching is mostly great: the bit where you’re in a classroom actually teaching, that is. And the holidays. And the pension, sort of. But like all jobs, teaching has some terrible aspects — and these are usually the bits where you’re subject to the results of somebody else’s ambition. Attend this meeting, do this thing, fill in this form, attend this other meeting, get in a group and sit for 45 minutes and wish to die, fill in the feedback form…

So it goes. And here we are, all of us, subject to the Downing Street parasite-toddler’s ambition: waiting 17 years for a doctor’s appointment; being struck off our dentist’s list; paying a million pounds to fuel our cars; growing old, dying and actually becoming a decayed corpse while we wait at passport control; waiting for the worst people in the world to do the right thing.

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