How many arms does a teacher need? A hundred will do

On World Teachers' Day, Google showed a teacher as a multitasking octopus. Yvonne Williams says eight limbs aren't enough

Workload: if teachers were like centipedes, multitasking would be easy

The best thing about the Google search engine is its Google Doodle: a picture or animation to mark a particular anniversary. Sometimes, it’s worth visiting the page just to see what the designers have thought up this time. 

And on World Teachers’ Day – which was celebrated this year on Saturday 5 October – the Google animators did the profession proud.

Their endearing, bespectacled octopus, working away on an undersea blackboard, was a tribute to the hard work of teachers – especially as it was going without a break from early in the morning and no doubt finished late into the evening. It used its eight tentacles to multitask: marking, writing on the board and reading aloud without once breaking into a frown. 

But this made me realise how ill-equipped the human body is for doing the job of a teacher. If only we had been given more pairs of arms.

If teachers were centipedes…

The only problem is that the octopus doesn’t have quite enough limbs to carry out all the functions of the modern teacher. So I challenge Google to provide an animation of a creature with more than eight limbs next year – a centipede perhaps? 

If teachers were like centipedes, just think how quickly marking could be done in the classroom while children were working. Line the desks up, and at least five books could be marked at a time, with written feedback given. (The centipede still has only one mouth, so perhaps spoken feedback could be delivered at the end of the lesson.) 

Books and papers could be handed out in a jiffy, while the online register was being warmed up. The phone call for IT assistance (on the occasions when, for "operational reasons", the information-management system failed to load) could be carried out while keeping the lesson on track. 

But, as every teacher in Britain knows, the classroom is only a small part of the modern teacher’s remit.

Photocopying would be a breeze. On the many occasions when the copier (inevitably) jammed, several pairs of hands could get the blockage cleared in no time. And, if you forgot to press the button for automatic collation or stapling, then putting four hands to work could ease the frustration.

Herculean efforts

Modern school-management systems have an insatiable thirst for information-gathering, which requires Herculean efforts. Every new technological application brings the potential for more input. Teachers now add pastoral and academic activity to the electronic pastoral recording system all the time. Perhaps one of the centipede’s limbs could do this, while some of the others were still teaching. 

Teachers are encouraged to phone parents to give praise as well as criticism – and to ensure that this activity has been duly recorded – so an arm to hold the phone and two extra hands to type in information would be greatly appreciated.

Then there are the data drops for marks, interim grades and so forth. Perhaps one further hand could calculate how close the results were to the predictions. Another to record comments would help time-poor teachers to meet deadlines.

Multihanded display mounting

What about supervising cross-curricular activities, such as clubs of all kinds, from chess to climbing? Not to mention trips. A couple of pairs of hands to fill in risk assessments and write letters home – then to check out insurance and bookings and get the trip off to an efficient start – would be great for time management. 

Obviously, school trips require many more arms, to count pupils on and off buses and take note of any problems on the way. If each one had a hand with five digits, then up to 500 pupils could be counted in one go.

Teachers would definitely welcome extra arms for putting up displays. A couple to hold the backing paper in place and a couple more to pick up and put in the drawing pins or staples would prevent teachers having to constantly step on and off a stool. A centipede’s physique would be ideal for this particular task.

I’m indebted to Google for bringing this idea to my notice, with its delightful octopus animation. I hope that the design team will consider my centipede idea for next year. After all, this concept has certainly got legs. It could run and run.

Yvonne Williams is head of English and drama at a school in the South of England

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