Exercising The Grey Matter or The Unexpected Benefits of Supply

By Bruce, a supply teacher from Norwich

“Sir, sir, I’m trying to get a picture of a Yorkshire tee-joint, and all I can find are pictures of tea bags and tee-shirts.”

Ah, the wonders of Google (other search engines are available). I’m covering a Construction class and the group have been set the task of researching materials used in plumbing. I’m no plumber but even I am pretty sure that a Yorkshire tee-joint is probably going to be made of copper or brass and certainly not have thousands of little perforations.
Once again, the child is the victim of Google’s predictive spelling. He is uncertain of his own spelling so allows kind Google to spell check and change words to the point where the original search becomes lost in the linguistic jungle that is the English language.

Personally, I’ve switched predictive texting off on my mobile phone. I now have to consciously select every letter. In time, you become almost as quick as using the predictive method, but you avoid sending texts (that you haven’t proof read) that can cause confusion or upset. On my old phone, for some reason, it was happy to come up with ‘dad’ but didn’t like ‘mum’ which always came up as ‘nun’. Receiving a text from ‘dad and nun’ can be disconcerting to a daughter.
We solve the tee-joint problem by simply putting in the word ‘plumbing’ to our search and, lo and behold, there it is in all its shiny copper glory.

So now, as well as the pupil, I know what a Yorkshire tee-joint is, and that fact gets logged in my memory. It’s one of the joys and unexpected benefits of supply teaching (there are, of course, many) that pushed into subjects that one is not qualified as such to teach, one picks up a mass of trivial facts that could make one the star of a quiz team, if only they asked questions on plumbing. However, I am also a firm believer in the finite capacity of the human brain. To take the computer analogy, there are many times when I would love to be able to attach an external hard-drive to add that extra gigabyte or so. If the brain is finite, then for every new bit of information that goes in, there must be an equal shedding of stuff, which probably explains why I can’t find my keys on a regular basis.
When I think of my brain, which isn’t often, the picture that emerges is not one of a computer with its neatly organised files for documents, pictures, videos and downloads. My brain closely resembles the stock cupboard in a room where I was recently teaching. At first, I thought one of last summer’s rioters had been in there; in a deliberate act of vandalism dragging materials and equipment from the shelves and depositing them on the floor, mixing exercise books with text books and so on. But the more I looked, and I had to because I was searching for something essential for the lesson, the disorganisation was of a very personal kind. Filing cabinets might have labels on the drawers but the chances of the contents having anything to do with the labels were remote. Half-drunk mugs of coffee sat precariously on piles of precious photocopies. I think the problem lay with the teacher finding it nearly impossible to decide how to divide and segregate the mass of stuff that a teacher has to deal with on a daily basis. Such is the inside of my head.

I’m teaching plumbing, or to be more exact covering a plumbing lesson, because thanks to Step Teachers (other agencies are available) I have a ten-week block in a school that will take me through to the summer. So no more early morning ‘shall I or shan’t I get dressed?’ moments; steady and guaranteed work but with, that bonus of the supply teacher, an end point. Then, there might be a chance to re-organise the filing system in my brain, clear out some redundant stuff and leave a little room for all the new stuff that will undoubtedly arrive soon.