Speaking of small talk, my ironing habits plug straight into my teaching practice

17th February 2012 at 00:00
And oftentimes the intention to save the best till last could end up leaving you flattened

Hi gang, and welcome to another 450 words of "worthless and uninteresting small talk" (Letters, 27 January). You wait 20 years for written feedback, and that's what you get. I can hardly use "worthless small talk" as a back cover quote for the book I'll never write, can I? Kudos to John Mitchell - he agreed a long time ago that I could have "the second-funniest person writing for TESS".

People tend to say more positive things to me face to face. Perhaps it's the closely cropped hair. It's not that it makes me look hard. I suspect it indicates a lack of judgement commensurate with the sort of unpredictability that instils a cautious approach.

So what to write about today? Discovering I was wearing odd socks yesterday? Too interesting. Having three lattes and two rowies on a trip to Aberdeen to train road safety officers in an initiative to set science lessons on forces in the context of safe travel? Potentially too worthwhile. An insight when ironing? That'll do.

I realised recently that I iron clothes in a particular order. All the girly stuff gets done first because it's awkward, with pleats, belts, pockets in odd places. My son's and my trousers and shirts get left to the end, because they're easy. I've always lived my life this way. If I've had a pair of brake pads to change, I've done the side that looks rustiest or least accessible first. It's not so much that I can then look forward to doing the other side, more that at least I know things will be a bit better.

It's one of the reasons that teaching is so stressful (potential relevance alert!). Given half a chance, I'd probably have arranged for all my most difficult classes to have been on a Monday. Instead, as happened in my very first year, I could find my working week ending with a guaranteed hard time from the Standard science class last two on a Friday. End-of- unit tests had to come at the end of units rather than, as I would have preferred, at the beginning. The only thing that makes being hit by a falling anvil worse is knowing that you're going to be hit by a falling anvil and being unable to step out of the way.

A warning, though. I tend to eat this way too, always leaving a piece of my favourite piece of the food on my plate until last. I did it with breaded mushrooms shortly after I was married. "Oh, don't you like those?" said my wife, spearing them with her fork and consuming them as I sat there in shocked silence.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre. Gregor Steele has, ironically, been criticised for his lack of small talk.

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