Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Do Sweat the Small Stuff

Article excerpt

Viking shamans used runes, cast and counted. Druids buried their hands in a goose's gizzards to do the same (or worse: Tacitus said that "the Druids consult the gods in the palpitating entrails of men"). Tea leaves, crystal balls, blood on a mirror - these have all been used as supernatural lenses from which apocryphal wisdom could be distilled. Sherlock Holmes famously (and fantastically) used his inductive acumen to draw forensic narratives from the meanest and minutest of details. These are all (sadly or not) unrealistic methods of gaining wisdom. But there is something to be said for noticing the small stuff, and working backwards from it.

Take one simple example. Pick any lesson and ask yourself: who turns up first? Who comes in last? Then flip the question: who bolts first? Who dawdles? And then ask: why? It took me years to even notice that such a phenomenon was happening. They arrived en masse, and left like a wolf pack; they were present or absent, and stragglers had their names chalked on the naughty slate for their troubles. But after a while, I started to see patterns. The same pupils, the same days, the same times. Of course, most teachers go through this phase. When you begin in teaching, you regard making it to the end of the day with enough activities as a win. After a while, you start to see their abilities and ambitions in broad groupings, perhaps their behaviour, too. Then you start to know the pupils by heart (hopefully before the first parents' evening).

Probing the why of the what was part of this process. One boy used to beat the rest of his peers to period one by many minutes, which, for period one, is a country mile. Cheerful and upbeat, it was easy to accept this with pleasure. It took a half-term of conversations to realise that it was because he missed every assembly; a few conversations later to unpick that he missed them because a pupil on the balcony above spent that time spitting slowly on him from above. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.