Whilst rooting around in a local charity bookshop today, I came across a real treasure: Recipes for Teachers. It appears to be a collection of recipes put together to help busy teachers get through the working week. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, but I’m certainly going to have a go at some of them next week! I’ll let you know how I get on, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you some examples from the book. Maybe you could try making them yourself, or maybe you’ve used some of these recipes before? Let me know in the comments. Bon appétit!
One of the great things about talks and debates at education conferences is when the speakers open up to questions from the floor. But sometimes it is hard to work out exactly what certain questions are really getting at. Below is a handy guide to what the questioner is really asking when it comes to some of the more common questions.
2. The techsploitation
3. The equaliser
4. The ‘me time’
5. The usurper
I’m happy to present to you the third post in a series of art histories of education. Previously, we have looked at how artists have depicted both school inspections and the back to school season, and this time I thought I’d explore the history of exam season as depicted through art.
A common subject for artists depicting this period of frenetic preparation is that of the variety of revision techniques that pupils use. We’ll begin by discussing three paintings that take on this subject.
In ‘Highlighting the Key Ideas in the Text’ (c.1950-2) by Mark Rothko, the artist shows us how the pupil has smothered the entire text with his yellow highlighter, showing a lack of discernment between ‘the key ideas’ and ‘everything the writer has written’. You can see at the bottom of the page that the pen has actually run out of ink, much to the frustration of the teacher, who has only just bought this new set of highlighters out of their own pocket.
Another subset of revision art focuses on the use of flash cards. In the 1990s, British artist Gillian Wearing turned our perception of these as merely a revision tool on its head and created a piece entitled ‘The Flash Card of the Teacher’ (1992-3). In the piece, instead of photographing pupils with flash cards, she asked teachers, in the week before the final exam, to use the flash cards to express exactly how they are feeling as they try to ensure their pupils achieve their target grades. In an interview, the artist has stated that the teacher’s line manager is just out of shot in this image, frantically gesticulating and waving around a piece of paper containing the teacher’s performance management targets.
‘A Mindmap of Everything I Know About the Hydrological Cycle’ (1952) by Jackson Pollock is a portrayal of a common revision tool: the mind map, or thought shower. In this piece, the pupil has attempted to write down everything they know about the hydrological cycle, only to throw a tantrum when they realise that they didn’t really know as much as they thought they knew. Legend has it that Pollock actually invented his famous style of ‘drip’ action painting in this exact way: he was mindmapping everything he was taught about classical art techniques at art school when he realised he hadn’t paid much attention, so ended up spoiling his canvas in a fit of rage. That particular ‘painting’ was later bought by Kanye West for $117m.
As pupils find themselves on the precipice of exam leave, teachers are asked to give their 28th and final data drop of the year for their Year 11s. A major part of this data drop will include the need to predict their pupils’ GCSE grades. Whilst under previous specifications these predictions were fairly difficult, they have become an arcane act under the new 9-1 GCSEs. With 100% exam in many subjects, teachers no longer have any coursework grades as a basis, and combined with a lack of any direction as to how the raw marks will convert to actual grades, this has left teachers turning to the occult to make their predictions. In Wyndham Lewis’ ‘Predicting 9-1 Grades Just Before the Final Exams’ (1938), we see the teacher depicted calling on the help of the spirit world before drawing numbers randomly from a pack of cards prior to entering it into her prediction spreadsheet.
As the exams loom heavily over the class, the teacher finds themself offering extra lessons after school, at weekends and often during the Easter break. The painter John William Waterhouse captures such a moment in ‘Extra Revision Lessons’ (1884). There are a number of interesting details in this painting. Critics point out the look of frustration on the teacher’s face as she goes through something she has taught a few times already during regular lessons, remembering that some of the pupils in the room weren’t paying any attention then because they knew that their teacher would go back through it again in these extra lessons anyway. Another thought-provoking detail is the pupil with her head in her hands. Critics suggest that she is having a nap as she thinks that merely turning up to these extra lessons is sufficient for her pass her GCSE in the subject. It is likely that this pupil has also bought a revision guide which sits untouched but also carries a similar magical power.
As the exam rapidly approaches, a greater number of pupils begin to realise that they will have to start working harder. In ‘After Four and a Half Years of Avoiding Work, It’s Finally Clicked for Bobby’ (1852), the artist Robert Braithwaite Martineau shows the moment when a particular pupil who has lacked motivation for so long finally pays attention to the work he is being asked to complete. We can see the enigmatic look on his fellow pupil’s face as she peers over his shoulder, having endured many years of ‘Bobby’ distracting her and the rest of class. It is a look that has been interpreted in many ways by critics: from supportiveness and respect for his newfound work ethic to a smug ‘I told you so’ at his obvious struggle.
Many artists have tried to depict the experience of the exams themselves. Arguably the most famous painting of the exam season is Pablo Picasso’s ‘OMG Steph Told Me She Wrote Something Different For That Question and Now I’m Questioning My Entire Exam Paper’ (1937). There is a strong moral message in this painting as Picasso warns the viewer of the dangers of discussing the paper with other pupils after they leave the exam hall and the consequent feeling of doubt that will naturally ensue from this. The lurid red juxtaposed against the bilious green and yellow represents the conflict in the pupil’s mind as they go over everything they wrote and decide all of it is invalid because her friend wrote something slightly different to her on one of the questions.
The abstract impressionist Jasper Johns offers this painting to the genre. Entitled ‘I decided to doodle this pattern instead of answering the question and then I wonder why I ran out of time in the exam’ (1975-6), it is a work that pulls the viewer’s eyes in many directions and forces the reader to ask a variety of questions of the artist, questions such as: ‘How long did this doodle take… I mean, it seems really intricate?’ and ‘You’ve even used three different colours – why the hell would you do this?’ and ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST TRY AND ANSWER THE EXAM QUESTION INSTEAD?’
Once exams are complete, pupils begin to think about results. This involves thinking about future plans – colleges, apprenticeships, careers. But more immediately, pupils must prepare for results day and how they will pose when a photographer from the local paper comes in to school. Pop artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘Practising Leaping for the Local Paper’ (1972) depicts a pupil preparing for just this moment. The work concentrates on the difficulty in getting airborne whilst maintaining a sense of joy and grace, and he sets the image of the pupil against a propulsion airplane to effectively illustrate this eternal struggle of flight.
Of course, whilst the exams are a worthy preamble, every pupil knows that the most important date during the exam season is the school prom. Whilst some pupils may spend lots of money and time and really throw themselves into the pomp and circumstance of the spectacle, Sir Frank Dicksee chooses one of the more understated and austere entrances for the subject of his painting ‘Arriving for Prom’ (1900).
This painting is a natural conclusion to some of my favourites on the subject of exam season. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
After a six month hiatus, we are pleased to present Vol. 5 of our ongoing glossary. For previous volumes, please follow these links:
Assessing Pupils’ Progress: in the 2000s, it was decided that formative assessment across the National Curriculum was not nearly time-consuming, convoluted, subjective or inaccurate enough, so the National Strategies developed APP in order to remedy this oversight.
/siː wəːd, ðə/
referring to an expletive that causes great offence and concern to teachers and is often heard in the corridors of schools, this is a euphemistic way of saying ‘consultant’.
a circle of teachers who will defend the right to teach the rise of the Third Reich with emojis.
material placed in the boot of a teacher’s car to act as ballast for the vehicle.
technical term used as a compulsory replacement for the word days in all schools during the last 2 weeks of any term, e.g., “Only six more get-ups, everyone…”
Han Solo taxonomy
a model that describes levels of increasing complexity in student’s understanding and knowledge of subjects; the model consists of five levels:
1. Never tell me the odds – pure ignorance
2. Fly casual – cursory understanding
3. Great kid, don’t get cocky – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing
4. Laugh it up, fuzzball – solid knowledge
5. Make the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs – boastful knowledge
what is left behind after a particularly flatulent Year 7 pupil has left your room.
a period of time during the school day in which teachers are able to attend meetings, hold detentions, receive observation feedback, respond to emails, and perform other administrative tasks; the name originates from an archaic idea that teachers once used this time to eat their lunch.
educational methodology which promotes pupils rising up and seizing the means of assessment.
according to Dante, “the Ninth Circle of Hell is reserved for the undertaking of mocksted inspections”; not only an awful thing in and of itself but also, fittingly, the most ugly word in the English language.
something that pupils are usually allowed to listen to by their regular class teacher, as mentioned in every single cover lesson that one has to take.
reading for pleasure
/ˈriːdɪŋ fɔː ˈplɛʒə/
a noble aim in education, often enacted by telling children to sit and read for pleasure.
an approach used in many schools to achieve a resolution for incidents ranging from name-calling to bullying or physical harm of others; a compound noun made up of the words justice, meaning ‘a fair outcome for everyone involved’, and restorative, meaning ‘unlikely chance of this resulting in’.
Genevan philosopher and, in a roundabout way, inventor of the fidget spinner: blame him.
verbal feedback stamp
/ˈvəːb(ə)l ˈfiːdbak stamp/
initially rejected as “not solving any actual problem” on the BBC television programme Dragon’s Den, this product later found minor success as novelty prank gift alongside the pet rock, the DVD rewinder and shoe umbrellas; it is still unknown whether its subsequent introduction into schools was intended as a continuation of the joke or whether it was actually serious.
the part of short-term memory that can hold between 5 and 9 items at any one time: specifically, it can remind pupils to bring to school their iPhone, headphones, makeup, fidget spinner, and a detailed knowledge of every football match from the previous weekend, but it will never contain enough space to remember to bring a pen.
Christmas advertising, we are told, has “hit a record high” this year, with a unparalleled £6bn being thrown at advertising agencies to produce that perfect television commercial for high street stores.
In recent years, these ads have become less like the 30-second showcase of a few tinselly gifts that they used to be and more a kind of feel-good mini feature film that tugs on our heart-strings so hard that our ventricles end up in our bladders and we need to spend Christmas drinking enough to float them back out again.
Not wanting to miss out on this gravy train, teaching authorities recently asked advertising agencies to “get us in on that John Lewis Christmas misty-eyed pap bandwagon” and make them an advert of similar oily charm.
Subsequently, a number of pitches were made by agencies to try and create an advert that leaves the general public all weeping so hard that they’ll quit their comfortable jobs the very next day and start banging on the doors of initial teacher training providers demanding to “get me some of them teaching hugs”.
Eventually, they chose to take a different route with their campaign, but we’ve managed to get hold of a couple of the speculative scripts, which we are sharing with you below. Enjoy. And have a very merry Christmas.
Pitch #1: ‘Board pens’
Pitch #2: ‘Sweets’
That’s because they are all fads. Now if you want to make a real change in your life, the principles of tycche are what you need.
Tycche is a Finnish word that is used when one has achieved the perfect work/life balance. It is simultaneously an art, a practice, a feeling and state of being. It is something that you achieve, you do, you feel and you are. You can’t buy it. But you can buy a book about it, priced at £14.99. In fact, you need to buy the book to have even a vague idea of what it is. You probably still won’t be entirely sure after you’ve read the book, though, such is its nebulous quality. This means we can probably whack out a few more volumes to sell to you before you get bored of it.
There is no literal English translation for the concept of tycche (pronounced tee-chuh), but it is often used to represent a combination of various ideas – ideas such as: surviving, coping, getting by, feeling a fleeting sense of confidence or achievement before it ebbs away, balancing on a tightrope, not giving up just yet, marking, and cake. It’s widely believed that the word comes from the old Sami phrase tycco lek che – literally “sod this, I’m having a sit down”.
Tycche can be achieved through a set of simple daily rituals, both in and out of the classroom. Here, we’ll take you through some of the things that you can do to feel, achieve, do and be tycche.
The key to drinking your way to tycche is in embracing tepid as an acceptable temperature for drinks that other (normal) people might call ‘hot drinks’. Once you see lukewarm tea and coffee as not only acceptable but actually desirable, you will no longer feel that deep melancholy that you currently feel whilst tossing back unpalatable gulps from the mug on your desk. You will instead feel a sense of satisfaction. That feeling is tycche.
So you’ve been teaching all day, been on duty, had a meeting, and now you have planning and marking to do. But before you do that, you think you’ll just check your emails and spend a couple of minutes dealing with replies. And then you see it: 42 unread emails. How can you possibly deal with this much information? The replies alone will take about half an hour. Half an hour which you haven’t got. This is where the principles of tycche can help.
According to the laws of tycche, rather than spending time replying to your emails now, you should flag the most important emails for reply later. You must promise yourself that you will definitely reply when you get some time. Don’t worry, you won’t actually reply later, as there will be another 42 emails in your inbox by then and these first emails will have magically (that’s the power of tycche) disappeared onto the second page to be forgotten about until someone sends you a reminder at some point. But the key is in truly believing that you will reply: your good intentions are important here. Tycche will take care of the rest.
In order to achieve tycche you need to ensure that you have hobbies – that is to say, pursuits that you undertake in your spare time. However, the problem that many teachers have is that it is difficult to find that spare time when snowed under with excessive workload. But that’s no excuse because: as it is a central tenet of the practice of tycche, one must undertake hobbies. The balance is easily met though, by simply making marking your hobby. By taking on marking as a pastime, you are able to enjoy your hobby every single day and complete your work. The perfect work/life balance.
The key to finding true balance is for you to visualise all the sources of your current stress sitting on one side of a set of weighing scales. Go ahead, do it now. On the pan, you place every repetitive email, every piece of marking using excessive criteria, every data dump, every exhaustive spreadsheet, every lunchtime detention… put it all on.
Now, you just balance out the other side of the scales with cake. Lots of it. Fill the other pan with chocolate brownies, Battenberg, Viennese whirls, jam tarts, millionaire’s shortcake, sponge cake, cream cake, red velvet cake… then drizzle it all with salted caramel until the scales are perfectly balanced.
This isn’t just an act of visualisation, though. To truly find tycche, you must eat actual cake every time your workload increases, every time someone dumps some extra work on you. Have to reply to some emails? Eat a Jaffa cake. Need to mark a load of mock exams? Eat some iced buns. Need to go to the photocopier? Take a chocolate Swiss roll with you. You must keep workload and cake in perfect balance with each other: that’s tycche.
If you are struggling to make the work/life balance of tycche through any of these practices, simply open a bottle of wine. About half a bottle in, you’ll feel it: tycche.
The Little Book of Tycche by Skinni Lahti is available from all good bookshops for £14.99.*
*Spending fifteen quid of your hard-earned money on this book, plus spending 6 hours reading it are actually both in contradiction of the rules of tycche and will throw your life back out of balance. Luckily, that can be remedied with the The Second Little Book of Tycche, which will be out in hardback in time for Christmas at £20.99.
So another World Teachers Day has come and gone. All the build-up, all the excitement, and it just seems to go by in a flash. One minute we’re all hanging our stockings up in the classroom ready to be filled with gifts from our generous pupils, the next minute we’re all sick of spending the week eating leftovers from the big World Teachers Day feasts laid on for us by our families and friends.
I love all of the traditions of World Teachers Day: chugging a yard of tea, the enormous full-sized teacher-shaped chocolate cake (bagsy the heart – it’s the biggest bit!), marking under the mistletoe, pinning the grade on the lesson observation (blindfolded, of course), being allowed to go the toilet, the Airing of Grievances, the singing of teacher carols (“Mark! The Herald Angels Sing”), the Returning of the Glue Sticks, and – the best bit – all the inspirational memes.
The memes range from the uplifting to the banal via the truthy, just the way we all love them. But some memes tap into a well-worn trope that does more damage than good: that of the teacher as self-immolating martyr. See exhibit A:
Quite often promoted by non-teachers, this trope says one thing: good teachers kill themselves for their jobs.
The valorisation of teaching as a form of ritual suicide is subtle but pervasive. Once you realise it, you begin to notice it all around. It appears when the Chartered College of Teaching platforms speakers telling us that “teaching is a way of being, not just a job.” And it’s in motivational posters telling us that we should “give meaningful feedback on students’ work even if [our] pile of books seems endless”.
What of those teachers who aren’t prepared to give their whole self over for their job? Those teachers who put their family first or who want to have energy left at the end of the day for other interests? Maybe they should just accept the fact that they aren’t good teachers? If they simply won’t consume themselves to light the way for others, should they feel guilty? Why aren’t they prepared to throw themselves on the funeral pyre like all the other good teachers around them?
The thing is that people don’t share these sorts of ideas because they want to attack teachers. The intentions are actually good; it’s just that such ideas are also completely unthinking. People assume that it flatters teachers: “anyone who is prepared to self-destruct just so that every child understands quadratic equations/oxbow lakes/pointillism is a truly an angel.” But this kind of hagiography actually damages teachers. It allows the system to tell teachers they should always be doing more. It allows the system to say: this is what teaching is; this is what you have to live up to if you want to feel you are doing enough.
We really need to shift this narrative that teaching should be all-consuming and that self-destruction is part and parcel of our job. We can’t complain of workload issues at the same time as promoting this harmful shibboleth.
Perhaps years ago I might have seen the ‘candle’ meme above and not noticed the deleterious subtext. I might have seen it as a celebration of our job. But after years of full time teaching, I realise how unsustainable this attitude is, how damaging it is.