The teaching moments when time stands still

This blog was first published in TES FE, February 2021

This time last year I would have wholeheartedly believed that time was the only constant in our lives. OK, time and paying taxes. And yet time seems to move differently in lockdown, doesn’t it? The working week rushes by in a blur of pixelated students and caffeinated stationery purchasing on Amazon, and yet the first half term of 2021 seems to have lasted a “lustrum”. 

A lustrum is five years, and when the pubs safely reopen you can have that quiz point on me, friends. Because in a bid to pass the time without being productive, I’ve scrolled away monotonous evenings in the black holes of Wikipedia, absorbing obscure units of time amongst other strange little nuggets of internet gold. 

Did you know, for example, that medieval scholars would renounce responsibility for any manuscript errors by pointing the finger of blame at Titivillus, the patron demon of scribes? Keep that in your back pocket the next time you’re called upon to scribe for a student and the thought of someone subconsciously SPAGing your handwritten scrawl leaves you queasy. Do try to refrain from sharing this defence with those around you under exam conditions, though.

These exams were previously my best measure of slowing time. I once invigilated a three-hour exam for a learner with 50 per cent extra time. Now, I appreciate the importance of the invigilating role and I assure you I afford it due diligence, but four and a half hours? I had to be physically prised from my desk and unceremoniously returned to the room after my allocated 15-minute tea break.

I was reminded of this torturous afternoon entering lockdown three. Because this one has definitely hit harder, hasn’t it? The cold, dark evenings and my refusal to upgrade our Virgin Media package to include channels that aren’t rubbish have allowed me some quality pondering time, though. This week, inspired by Wikipedia, I’ve been pondering the everyday moments in our teaching lives that suspend the advancement of time:

If the points above have stirred up some unresolved discomfort from shared experience, rest assured that I have not come here without answers.

Einstein’s theory of relativity predicts that time actually moves slower the closer we are to the Earth’s surface. This time dilation effect means that the age gap between twins, one an astronaut and the other a common earth dweller like us, was seen to increase when the former spent time aboard the International Space Station. Incredible, right? And absolute applicable to addressing our little time collapses here. So settle in, friends, here it is. The conclusion. The answer:

Move your kettle upstairs and only use open questioning in space.