Why every teacher needs a list right now

In lockdown, many of the routines that surround our working day have evaporated. Sarah Ledger suggests a way to bring order and – maybe – joy to the tedium

Sarah Ledger

Coronavirus schools

I love a list. Would Sunday morning even be Sunday morning if I didn’t have a handwritten set of bulletpoints next to my laptop, with items ranging from “Take chicken out of freezer” to “Mark Year 10 assessments”, via “Find out about early 19th-century naval ranks”? 

Some lists are more precise than others. My shopping list, for instance, is in order of the aisles in Morrison’s. Mind you, that’s risky, particularly if someone at Morrison’s HQ takes it into their head to swap “Rice & Pasta” for “Condiments”; I’ll end up retracing my steps in search of tabasco and being distracted by the possibilities of orzo. 

I need to point out that my list-making has nothing to do with being super-organised – quite the reverse. After 30-odd years in teaching, I’ve become institutionalised: over-reliant on school timetables on term-time weekdays and completely unmoored at weekends and holidays. 

Creating order in non-timetabled chaos

At school, there’s a time to teach, a time to have a cup of tea and a time to hurtle from one end of the building to the other with a dangerously full bladder. We have schemes of work, assessment calendars, deadlines and five-minute appointment slots at parents’ evening. 

It’s no wonder that, by the time Saturday arrives, I’ve gone into freefall, watching reruns of Line of Duty at 6am in yesterday’s leggings, and going to the toilet whenever I feel like it.

That’s why lists help. They create order in my non-timetabled chaos – and not just day to day. Almost seven years ago, horrified by the unstoppable onslaught of time, I made myself a list of 50 things to do before I turned 50. 

It kept me occupied for a year. While I never made it to number 50 – drive through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair – I did a whole variety of other amusing things with only a single brush with death (19: Swim in the sea at the full moon at midnight. There was a fundamental misconception about the relationship between the full moon and the tide: I thought if the moon was full, the tide was in – like a plug in the bath. I had to wade practically all the way to France, and there were cross currents and sinking sands and darkness...) 

The list meant that I was never bored, and the simple act of ticking off an accomplishment – no matter how trivial (28: Go for a day without swearing) – gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction. 

Lockdown III: pushing the boundaries, within limits

Now we’re in Lockdown III, there’s still a timetable for work – we’re all glued to Teams – but the rhythm of the day has shifted, and the routines that surround the working day have evaporated. We can’t go anywhere or see anyone, and there’s only so many online familial quizzes before I start Googling “entire family clean break divorce”. 

So it occurred to me at the start of the year that what I needed to cheer myself up was another list. 

Not 50; maybe 12. That’s doable. The aim – unlike those Sunday-morning lists – is to have fun, push the boundaries yet keep it realistic. I’m aiming for somewhere between the extremes of “Tidy out the cupboard under the stairs” and “Train as a sommelier”.  

Back in 2014, there were few limitations, apart from cash, the law and my visceral fear of heights. In 2021, anything outside the immediate vicinity of my house is likely to be impossible, at least until – fingers crossed – Easter. So I’ve taken this into account. 

Yes, I know this is indulgent, but while you’re skimming through my list, fizzing with irritation and muttering, “Who the hell does this woman think she is… ?” there’s a possibility that somewhere, deep down, you have a list, too – that what you need to bring joy into your frantic lockdown life is a schedule of 12 distractions. Or just something to look forward to. 

My list: 12 things to do by 31 December 2021

Anyway, here’s my list. I realise it exposes me as the most shallow of dilettantes, but that won’t be a surprise to anyone. 

They’re in no particular order, but they should be completed by 31 December 2021, lockdown or no lockdown.

1. Prepare for knee replacement surgery – making myself new-knee ready.

2. Learn and perform a magic trick.

3. Create a Bake Off showstopper.

4. Develop the content of my menopausal home-baker Instagram.

5. Read the rest of a novel I’ve claimed to have already read in its entirety.

6. Learn to play bridge.

7. Get to grips with TS Eliot. 

8. Teach the dog to roll over.

9. Make edible pasta.

10. Mix the perfect martini.

11. Plan and organise a celebration for my Year 11s

12. Write a book.

As you can see, all harmless fun. Wish me luck!

Sarah Ledger is an English teacher and director of learning for Year 11 at William Howard School in Brampton, Cumbria. She has been teaching for 34 years

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Sarah Ledger

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