Help! I'm turning into my classroom

We've all met dogs owners who've begun to resemble their pets. Stephen Petty has begun to notice a similar merging process...with his classroom

Stephen Petty

Light switch as face, wearing bobble hat

I think I may be slowly turning into my classroom. Or maybe the classroom is turning into me. Either way, it’s pretty unsettling. 

They say that dogs and their owners often end up looking like each other, and there are plenty of pictures online to support that theory. I have noticed a similar “merging” process with certain drivers and their cars, ever since spotting the uncanny resemblance between the face of a former colleague in Norwich and the front of her beautiful vintage Saab. 

So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised if all our years spent inside a classroom might start to have a similar effect.  

“Utter nonsense” will be some people’s natural defensive reaction to this, not even realising that they, too, have perhaps already passed through the first of the two stages in this absorption process. 

Turning into our subjects

Thousands of us are already at stage one surely – strangely taken over by our subject, following year after year of teaching the same topics. We are already partly changed by this.  

Think of some of our art-teaching colleagues, for instance, who eventually start to dress like many of their students’ unfinished GCSE projects. 

Or think of those English lit teachers who, through years of plodding repeatedly through the same texts, find it quite hard to avoid viewing their entire life through some bleak An Inspector Calls/Lord of the Flies prism.    

Another case in point are those extreme Francophile modern-language teachers, who eventually come to convince themselves that they really are French.  

So this first phase is not uncommon at all. I went through it some time ago. While on walks, I found myself, as a seasoned economics teacher, starting to liken hill contours and tree branches to various micro- and macro-economic diagrams. 

Desperately sad, I know. Though you really should see the huge, inverted L-shaped branch on a walk up to a famous waterfall in Ullswater – it bears an astonishing resemblance to a Keynesian long-run aggregate supply curve. Fellow walkers are fascinated by all this – though more by me than by the similarities.  

The man with the wooden head

So phase one is mainly a psychological transformation within us. What about the more physical phase two? Am I the first? I doubt it. 

Looking back, I now wonder if this is exactly what happened to Mr Mackintosh, my old woodwork teacher. 

As a bored, mind-wandering young pupil in his class, the one thing that used to intrigue me about this grim-faced ex-army man was the slow transformation of his shaven head from something essentially human in Year 7 to something entirely inanimate by the time I dropped the subject in Year 9.  

It had begun as just an oval-shaped human skull. By the time I left, his head had become a completely nut-coloured rectangular block of wood, just like those he kept in his stockroom.    

The first sign that something similar might be happening to me was when I noticed that my school clothes now completely match the blue, maroon and whites of the classroom walls. Children find it quite hard to see where I am in the room. 

A Stephen King moment

I also completely match the classroom’s rather weathered and chaotic appearance, my face a classroom display that has perhaps been up there too long and is starting to look pale and to curl around the edges. 

Things came to a head last week, when one of my youngest pupils politely pointed out that the little hole in the epaulette region of my jacket is in exactly the same place as the one directly above it, in the top right-hand corner of the classroom ceiling. It was a chilling, Stephen King moment. The transformation has perhaps only just begun. 

That pupil is clearly the equivalent of the mind-wandering me in my old woodwork lessons, charting the transition from one week to the next. 

In my case I may not be turning into wood. But I may well be turning into a mix of peeling paint, falling plaster and fading wall-display.    

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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