Stop the clock, I want to get off

16th October 1998 at 01:00
FREE WITH the last tub of margarine I bought was The Little Book of Calm. In case you have yet to come across this best-seller, let me tell you that it is indeed a small number with a few words on each page suggesting ways stress can be beaten. You could watch fish, for example, or dress in white like a yogi. Or sell your wristwatch.

Sell my wristwatch? That's supposed to make me calm? I remember - once - forgetting my watch early on in my teaching career. It was in the days before every physics department had a healthy stock of hand-held timers that would willingly display the time of day if the right combination of buttons was held down. In a panic, I stopped my sister, a pupil at the school, on the staircase and relieved her of her dainty timepiece. Calm was then restored.

Since the very first lesson I ever took, I have been aware of the laws of relativity that govern time in the classroom. Flashback: it's 16 years ago almost to the day, my second day of my first teaching practice. The head of maths is off somewhere and has given me sole charge of his class. I am too naive to realise that this is not the way things should be done.

There is a wee boy in the second row who keeps making low-level silly comments. The class have been left examples to do. I walk around. An hour lasts 90 minutes. This is mere baby-sitting. When I begin proper lessons, timings are written down on a lesson plan. If the class turns out to be a good one, the introduction to the lesson overruns but does not seem to, at least not to me.

The same temporal distortions were rife when I was a pupil. Some classrooms had large clocks with Roman numerals and minute hands that lurched grudgingly from division to division. Not that I always noticed. An absorbing science experiment, a play brought to life by an enthusiastic English teacher, a page of challenging but manageable equations - all could compact two periods into one.

I remember what it felt like and as a consequence still get a kick out of a kid saying, "Whit? Already?", when I announce that it's time to pack up. That was due to be the rather self-satisfied ending to this piece until a physics practical lesson was plagued by uncooperative equipment.

The laws of relativity proved to be still more complex. Trying to fault-find and simultaneously assist with investigations, I failed to keep up with the big hand. An hour passed in 30 minutes but the body clock said "time for bed" at half past two.

Gregor Steele's words of calm: avoid financial stresses by throwing together an extremely small, insubstantial, best-selling book.

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