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Death by a million emails

News | Published in TESS on 21 October, 2011 | By: Anne Thrope (Ms)

We’re starting to lose things again. Not just the plot and the will to live but the really important stuff like our CMIS passwords and the menu for Domino’s Pizza.

The biggest problem is that our management team churns out information faster than we can deal with it, so keeping our pigeon holes clear is like mucking out the Augean Stables after the cattle have had a big curry.

Currently, we are in such a stew that there are EpiPens in the tea caddy and an SEN register in the Cup-a-Soup drawer. The lack of storage space doesn’t help: all the filing cabinets in the English department are shrines to ex-students who are now busier tracking their mortgages than the themes in Lord of the Flies.

In schools, the opportunities to hoard are endless. Since exam boards change their set texts more often than my husband changes his socks, we stockpile mountains of obsolete resources.

And we never chuck old stuff out in case, like Lulu or leggings, they creep back into fashion. I am the worst offender. My desk drawers are untidy because I am pathologically unable to put things in the bin. My mother taught me to keep everything because it might “come in handy” one day. But it will be a midnight hour for the human race if our survival depends on a dried out board marker, a confiscated laser pen and the crumbled remains of a custard cream.

Keeping your classroom tidy is hard enough, but keeping your inbox empty is worse. This term has seen a rise in the popularity of the “All Staff” email. I think blogging is partly to blame: we all fancy ourselves as Dr Johnson, but instead of sharing urbane aphorisms or useful lexicographical tips, we circulate pictures of our latest babies/kittens/Audi TTs or send out generic invitations to meet up in the pub.

Writing a message that’s only relevant to Josh Brown’s subject teachers then sending it to “All Staff” because you’re too lazy to check your address book is like direct mailing the UK with a birthday card for your gran.

My other favourite pointless email is the one sent out by our IT support manager on a Friday afternoon reminding us to delete unwanted emails. I’d like to think he was being intentionally ironic but in the binary on/off world of IT, there’s little scope for reading between the lights. Although the pop-up that asks: “Would you like to install updates and restart your computer?” in the middle of a 30-column spreadsheet would suggest otherwise.

More alarmingly, we’ve recently started using the school email system as a collecting tin for “good causes”. Being an altruistic breed, teachers enjoy a good whip round. Rarely a day goes by without someone asking you to pop into Room 12 at break time to donate a few quid for a retirement present, hospital flowers or a communal deodorant for maths. And usually we oblige. The only reason we didn’t chip in for the caretaker’s hiatus hernia was because it clashed with the sponsored walk.

Thankfully, help is in sight. Cloud computing offers the antidote to digital disorder. It will free up our hard drives and enable us to access our files from anywhere in the world. I can’t wait. It’s like they’ve built us a new shoe cupboard in space, because the one under the stairs is packed with football boots, smelly trainers and spiders the size of your head.

If only we could remember the password.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.


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