The teaching moments when time stands still

Time has started moving differently in lockdown, says Laura Kayes - having just completed the longest half-term in history

Laura Kayes

Teaching during the coronavirus pandemic: Sometimes it feels like time stands still, says Laura Kayes

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. 

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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.

Moments in teaching that seem to last a lifetime

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:

  1. The moment in a synchronous lesson when you have delegated breakout rooms, but one learner is a little slow off the mark to accept the invitation and the two of you remain the only people in the original room. To the casual observer, this moment is fleeting. To those locked in politely glitching eye contact, it lasts a terasecond. A terasecond is about 31,700 years.
  2. There are many factors that can affect the time taken by a kettle to reach boiling point. Impurities in the water can have an impact, atmospheric pressure can alter the boiling point, an accidental change in altitude could have a devastating impact on your brew. Perhaps you’ve spent many lustrums scrolling on Wikipedia instead of descaling the kettle, leading to calcification, increasing the insulation between water and kettle? 

    The above are all incorrect, of course. The reason your kettle is taking a megannum (one million years) to boil is because you’re a teacher desperate for a cuppa and your next lesson starts in 10 minutes. 
  3. And so you enter class, flustered and non-caffeinated, to find a friendly, smiling observer. You welcome them into your room, ensure they’re comfortably seated and greet your students. The lesson begins with crystal clear, personalised intentions. The learners are giddy for knowledge, your jokes are hilarious and your starter retrieval activity is a resounding success. It is at this point that you unwittingly decide to test the longest measurement of time known to science. You realise too late as the words begin to form. You try to physically catch them, to swallow them back before they reverberate around the room, but they’ve escaped, hanging over the room like a damp mist.
    "Can anyone tell me…?"

    You’ve asked an open question, and now all that’s left to do is grow old with the observer whilst you wait a yottasecond for a volunteer. A yottasecond is 31.7 quadrillion years. 

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. 

Laura Kayes is an advanced practitioner and performing arts lecturer across Luminate Education Group's FE and HE provision

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