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Another brick in the wall

| August 30, 2016 | 0 Comments

Why do otherwise sane and normal people become teachers?

Ican tell you. Let’s face it. If teachers are absolutely honest (and, please, I am not suggesting for one moment that they are dishonest – at least, not most of them and certainly not most of the time; some of my best friends are teachers), they would admit that their
reason for going into the profession included a teensy-weensy little bit of what the world of politics calls a “hidden agenda”.

(Yes, yes, I hear what you are saying – of course we all went into it for virtuous, noble reasons like “it’s for the children – they are the future” and “to make the world a better place”, cue Michael Jackson’s song Heal the World.1)

(But there is that itsy-bitsy hidden agenda. And just what is that little closet motive? It is the thought (at the very, very back of the mind) that, for once in life, you will be at the right end of the instruments of power. Yes, indeed, I say it again – teachers get to exert power.

Naturally, I am not singling out education alone. Every profession has its darker motivations. We all know that the surgeon, while entering his profession to “serve humanity” and “alleviate suffering”, secretly enjoys a little frisson of pleasure at the thought that now he is at the right end of the injection needle. Or the scalpel. And he even gets to say, “Clear!” before sending (at the maximum) 700 volts into a patient’s chest to see how high he can make the body jump.

That is power.

The dentist, too, (just every now and again) has a sly smirk as he gives his drill a little spin between patients: because he can. For a brief moment, he takes time out from thinking about the interest (compound) on his investments, and appreciates that his chosen profession is not all bad breath and fillings. He, too, is in a position of power through pain.

And, truth be told, the lawyer does not go lawyering just to see that “justice is done”. Oh, no. He won’t admit it, but the hidden reason is the sadistic power it gives him in the act of “billing the client”. At a rate of his choice. And then watching the client’s face as the cash register in his mind drives him to frantic efforts to terminate the consultation before the second hour of “whereas the aforementioned”, and “ipso facto” and the 20th “hereinafter referred to” (billed at R3 000 an hour) drones on. (I even know a lawyer who used to effect a speech impediment. He could make “g-gg… good m-m…morning” last minutes. He said the hardest part was keeping a straight face as the client sweated before finally bursting out with, “For pity’s sake!”

Teachers, of course, do not believe they will rise to these lofty heights of power. But deep down, we secretly suspect that when we enter the profession, there will be the satisfaction of being on the right side of at least one instrument of power. That instrument is the red pen.

Pass or fail lies in the amount of ink (like blood) we choose to shed over the test paper. That is power. And think about just how much power we get to exert. I mean, 200 at one go when marking exam papers.

The first bloodbath you get to create out of the mindless gumph the pupil produces is satisfying – even fun. And it is entertaining to link a few underlines, red crosses and lines down margins so that a red doggy or a ducky is created. And then you can also colour them in.

(I’m kidding. Of course teachers would never victimise their pupils in this way. There isn’t time – the marks have to be in tomorrow. And we don’t get to bill per length of time it takes for each paper marked.)

No, let’s be serious. Teachers always mark each paper fairly and sympathetically. Especially the dumb-ass kid who handed in a blank paper. Which you encountered at midnight. When your brain had turned into porridge from marking the same 199 piles of rubbish before it.

Then the teacher becomes his better self. The gratefully easy zero he assigns is done with compassion and empathy – as the noble profession he serves expects of him.

Power may corrupt absolutely, but having to exert it over a seemingly never-ending pile of 200
exam papers is absolutely too much.


1. See, for example:

Category: Regular Columns, Spring 2016

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