The Little Book of Tycche: The Finnish Art of Wellbeing in Teaching

So, you’ve read all about hygge, lykkelagom and ikagai, and followed all of the guidance but none of these things have made a dent on improving your work/life balance in teaching, right?

 

 

 

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.

TEA/COFFEE

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.

EMAILS

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.

HOBBIES

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.

CAKE

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.

WINE

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.

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Teaching: if you aren’t dead yet, you aren’t doing it well enough

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.

And this realisation means that I should probably throw away all of these old memes I made years ago when I thought I was celebrating teaching too. Silly, silly old me.