Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Bell Tolls

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Bell Tolls

Article excerpt

What's the name of the phenomenon where the mind is forced to move from one paradigm to another and struggles to catch up? Sort of like inertia, but of desire rather than speed and distance. Rebooting one's ambitions at the end of summer is always hard, when you trade pillows and barbecues for getting dressed in the dark and assembly bells. Divers get decompression sickness when they surface too quickly. What do teachers get? Interactive whiteboard bends.

Two things I know about this vertigo. First, to paraphrase the endlessly huggable John Tomsett of Huntington School, you feel as if you're drowning in cognitive dissonance as you struggle with the planners, the timetables, the class lists. Second, it lasts about five minutes: by the end of the first day you feel as if you never left. By the end of the second day, you can't remember what the sun felt like on your bare legs. Any ambitions you had to read that book or finish that fence are dashed for at least a term. Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, quoth Donne; it tolls for thee, every 45 minutes or so, and three times in the afternoon.

Class data always appears to me as some kind of condensed soup: previous grades, special needs, gender, ethnicity, medical notes. You look at it and it seems remote from the task at hand, but that's because you haven't added water to the powder yet. Teaching is how we turn the desiccated data into a more substantial soup.

A strange and lovely magic accompanies the first few weeks of a new class: apart from the school algorithms, it's up to you to find the human being in the student. …

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