I'm visualising hell

29th June 2012 at 01:00

I am sitting with a colleague from ICT. We are trying to sort out a series of meetings, but we are having trouble coordinating the times when we are both free. "How about Wednesday mornings?" I suggest, peering at the coffee stain that has partially eclipsed the timetable in my planner. "Does that sound any good?" He rejects my invitation to discuss things and instead uncovers his iPad, revealing a timetable colour-coded in the latest Farrow and Ball shades. My heart sinks. I should have known from his matching tie and socks that he is a visual learner. "Let me see," he mutters, and fastidiously cross-references our PPA times, highlighting the potential dates in Lamp Room Gray, Dorset Cream, Smoked Trout and Mizzle. By the time he gets to Week B I have lost the will to breathe.

If the meeting has taught me anything it's this: visual learners are an alien species. They might vaguely resemble us, but they come from a different planet. Their world is like a branch of Paperchase, full of pretty stationery, bespoke gift wrap and cards for every occasion, whereas ours is full of noisy people who have forgotten to brush their hair.

Even the way we speak echoes our different teaching styles. We auditories "hear what you say" while they "see what you mean". We think it's good to talk; they think it's better to put it on Post-its, snowstorm the board and spray-clean the fingerprints off afterwards.

My bugbear with visual learners is their obsession with the way things look. When they are not faffing around with fonts or peeling off stickers, they are causing delays in the photocopying queue by adding alternate sheets of coloured paper to Drawer A. And the pristine state of their exercise books puts the rest of us to shame. It's like they have been marked by Gok Wan. It's this visual acuity that makes them so successful in education, since their ability to insert a bar chart at the drop of a hat generally buys them a fast-track ticket into senior management.

But the need to perpetually visualise things must have a downside. I suspect it makes your sex life very tricky. Imagine: it's Friday night and things are getting steamy. Auditory learners generally get by using short commands such as "stroke this", "touch that" or "would you mind lifting your nightie?", whereas visual learners have to jump off mid foreplay, type the text and present it as a Wordle.

Unfortunately, auditory learners have their own set of problems. We talk too much and - as I learned to my cost - loose lips can sink careers. When I was an NQT I was hauled over the coals for making too free with metaphors. I had been observed teaching a challenging class. In the feedback session that followed I described my struggle to maintain discipline as "a battle" and referred to my hastily put together seating plan as a "potential minefield". The deputy who observed me expressed his "deep concern" that I used "war terminology" to describe my dealings with pupils. Looking back, I wish I'd had the courage to defend my right to figurative speech. But I didn't. I cried myself to sleep for weeks and eventually found a new job.

Metaphor helps us make sense of the world and it's what makes English teachers tick. Take my columns, for example. If you cross out the figurative language, all you have left are some empty words, a few conjunctions and a bit of filthy sex. Now if that's not a fitting metaphor for life, I don't know what is.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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