Mobile madness

Supermarkets are really good at making things go viral these days. Who didn’t love the image of a whole shelf full of wine bottles labelled “office essentials” during the height of PartyGate? They know how to push people’s buttons on social media in order to keep their brand in the spotlight.

One can only assume that the potential to go viral was the purpose of this display, photographed and shared by an MFL teacher called David on Twitter this weekend:

Predictably, and presumably as part of Tesco’s dastardly plan to go viral, EduTwitter went beserk. Huge numbers of us, myself included, were pretty annoyed about the fact that Tesco were depicting a mobile phone as an “essential” for children heading into school. Yet this notion is not an outlier and Tesco certainly did not come up with it on their own; I am reliably informed by multiple friends who are parents that it is now considered to be a “rite of passage” for children to receive a smart phone when they enter secondary school (if their parents haven’t caved in already), so Tesco know what they’re doing here.

There is overhwhelming evidence that mobile phones cause problems in a school environment, which is why so many schools have moved towards banning them in recent years. Many teachers have expressed growing concerns that smart phones pose a significant safeguarding threat and a tool which aids and abets bullying and child-on-child abuse. This is now well-evidenced. Most fundamentally of all however – given that schools are meant to be a place where children learn – the basic problem with smart phones is that they are weapons of mass distraction.

A blogpost by Innerdrive sums up the research evidence on mobile phone usage in schools and it makes for sobering reading. While much of the research focuses on the usefulness of banning phones in a school setting, there is also a great deal of evidence which should give parents serious pause for thought about their child’s usage of devices at home, particularly at night-time. In summary: please don’t let your child have access to their phone after bedtime and please make sure that you have access to everything your child is doing and seeing online and that you check this regularly.

What has puzzled me most in this whole thing is the number of people still willing to defend the notion of children having access to these devices throughout the school day. Unsurprisingly, not very many of them are classroom teachers. They are “educators”, EdTech pushers or – occasionally – much-loved children’s poets. Most teachers have been concerned about children’s usage of smart phones from day one, and those who have defended the notion in the past have in many cases shifted their viewpoint. One of the most irksome arguments used against banning phones in schools is the viewpoint that children must be educated in their usage and that banning them is part of schools being “out of touch” with the modern world. Okay. Apply that argument to sex education: children should be allowed to experiment with sex in school because they need to be taught how to do it responsibly. Apply the argument to alcohol and drug usage: children should be allowed to use alcohol and drugs in school so that we can teach them how to do so responsibly. And so on. Of course students need to be taught about responsible internet usage and the dangers of social media, and believe you me they get this by the bucket-load. But to suggest that in order to learn about the use of smart phones they need to have ready access to these devices in school (as if somehow otherwise they wouldn’t know what we’re talking about?) is laughable.

One of my earliest shows for Teachers’ Talk Radio explored the relationship that teenagers have with their smart phones and my guest, Dr. Kathy Weston from Tooled Up Education, used the phrase “digital hygiene” to summarise the kinds of discussions and agreements that should go on between parents and their child at the point when a child is given one of these devices. It’s important to note where the responsibility lies here: with the parents who, after all, are paying the bill. Of course schools should be addressing mobile phone usage as a part of their PSHE programme, and I cannot imagine there is a school in the land not doing so. But dealing with this issue in schools is a dismal attempt to hang a sheet over a door that a horse has not only bolted through but slammed so hard that the door is off its hinges. In my show I also interviewed Matt Crowley, lead DSL (Designated Safeguarding Lead) in the school in which I was working at the time; the serious safeguarding risks and the systemic damage to a child’s mental health, self-esteem and personal safety which can arise from the use of these devices – in school and beyond – simply cannot be over-emphasised, I’m afraid.

Defenders of the smart phone in schools piont to its “education benefits” and there is no question that there are multiple apps that children can make use of in their learning journey. However, it is a full-time job to micro-manage this kind of usage and that can only be done by a parent or carer. If only we could trust all of our children to make use of their phones to access their Latin vocabulary on Quizlet during break and lunchtimes! In reality, anyone who thinks that’s what they are doing with them is seriously deluded. During the period in which smart phones had become endemic amongst young people when I was working in schools, I knew of numerous cases of children accessing pornography and videos produced by terrorist organisations; I knew of cases in which these devices were used for horrific and systemic bullying, to film teachers and humiliate them on social media, and for children to watch age-inappropriate films and play age-inappropriate games. You name it, I’m afraid they’ve probably done it and done it in school. Is that what people want for their child?

So schools must hold the line and maintain their ban – not that I know of a single one that regrets it – and parents can (I hope) take inspiration from it. These devices are wondrous and I fully admit that I could not live without mine. I first attained a smartphone at the age of around 35, which is probably responsible enough. I cannot tell you how glad I am that they did not exist when I was a child.

My final thought brings me back to my new full-time role, as a professional tutor. It is a discussion I have had to have with numerous parents, advising them to take away a child’s mobile phone while they access my sessions. Working online, it is particularly difficult to spot when a child is distracted by their device, but I can still spot it. Most children find it too difficult to discipline themselves not to look at their phones whilst they’re doing anything (even something they enjoy!) so the odds of them being able to resist it during a tutoring session are vanishingly slim. So take control, which means take the device. They’ll thank you for it one day.

The problem with pronouns in Latin

Latin is a heavily inflected language. Inflection is a process of word formation by which the word is modified according to its grammatical category. For verbs, inflection (called conjugation), means that the ending (and in some instances the stem) of the verb will change according to tense (e.g. present or future), voice (active or passive), person (1st, 2nd or 3rd) or number (singular or plural).

English is different. English relies heavily on pronouns to identify who is performing the action of a verb. For example, let’s take the verb “to warn” in the present tense. To conjugate this English verb, I need to use a series of different pronouns to express whoever is the subject of the verb – there is only one small change (in the 3rd person) to the ending of the verb itself:

1st person singular: I warn
2nd person singular: You (sg) warn
3rd person singular: He/she/it warns
1st person plural: We warn
2nd person plural: You (pl) warn
3rd person plural: They warn

Latin is completely different. Latin has no need of a personal pronoun to express whoever is doing the action of the verb. The same verb in Latin will conjugate as follows:

1st person singular: moneo
2nd person singular: mones
3rd person singular: monet
1st person plural: monemus
2nd person plural: monetis
3rd person plural: monent

One of the most important things for new students of Latin to grasp is this fundamental difference, for it has varied and complex effects upon their ability to read and translate the language competently. To become a confident Latinist, a student must break the habit of reading from left to right and learn to prioritise finding the verb (usually, although not always, at the end of the sentence).

The habit of reading from left to right is extraordinarily difficult to break and students will usually revert to it when under pressure, despite “knowing” their verb endings. For example, a novice will naturally tend to translate the sentence “puellam monemus” as “the girl warns”. But the -mus ending on the verb tells us that it actually means “we warn”, therefore the sentence translates as “we warn the girl”: the fact that the girl is the object, not the subject of the verb, is also something that can be deduced from its case ending, but that too tends to go out of the window when a novice is faced with a sentence such as this – and that’s precisely because we naturally read from left to right. No other reason, really.

It seems to me that the authors of virtually all the Latin reading courses that have made it through the traditional publishing process are either in complete denial about this fundamental difference between English and Latin, or they are utterly deluded in their apparent belief that it really isn’t that difficult for children to let go of the habit of reading from left to right – even though it’s a routine they have been trained into doing habitually from the age of 4 or 5 and is therefore deeply ingrained. Reading from left to right is, for every child – however hesitant a reader – a custom which will have slipped entirely into their unconscious mind; no child picks up a book and starts reading a sentence from the middle or the end.

In my criticism of published reading courses I am thinking in particular of courses such as The Cambridge Latin Course and the much more recently published Suburani, which is so markedly CLC 2.0 that I’m surprised its creators haven’t been sued by Cambridge for plagiarism. Both courses use subject pronouns from the outset (and throughout) as a prop for students to hang their understanding upon. Since pronouns – when used as the subject – appear at the beginning of the sentence, students are actively encouraged to continue with their natural instinct of reading from left to right. This, to be brutally frank, is simply disastrous for their potential as future Latinists.

Here are just a couple of examples from the very first few pages of Suburani (and therefore part of students’ early introduction to reading Latin stories):

ego multum cibum habeo (“I have a lot of food”): what is ego doing there? Why not force students to look at the ending of habeo instead?

tu psitaccum habes (“you have a parrot”): what is tu doing there? Don’t get me started on why the students are learning the Latin for “parrot” in their first few lessons. It may not surprise you to know that it doesn’t come up very often and it’s certainly not a word they will need at GCSE or are likely to need at A level.

ego cibum vendo (“I am selling food”): sigh.

tu amicum habes (“you have a friend”): etc etc. You get the idea.

In all of the above sentences both ego and tu could be removed in order to force students to look at the verb ending. So what are they doing there? It seems to me that they serve no purpose other than to encourage students to read from left to right – excactly the opposite of what they should be doing. This more than anything is my fundamental objection to how courses such as these are designed; I have plenty of other objections too, but this is the one that irks me the most. The authors of these courses are so determined to prove their misguided belief that students will learn how to read Latin via some kind of process of osmosis that they are prepared to lull them into a false sense of security by guiding them to approach Latin sentences in entirely the wrong way. From day one.

In my final few years at the chalkface and as we hurtled into lockdown, I was faced with the prospect of converting all my Latin lessons for online learning and the need to put work on screen. On our return to school I did not have enough text books to go around and was told that they could not be shared between bubbles. Since I had to get all of the stories up onto the screen, this, I decided, was the time to grasp the bull by the horns and edit all the cartoons and the stories in the Cambridge Latin Course to remove all the pronouns and therefore force students to look at the verb endings. I made other fundamental changes too, but this was the one (I believe) which has had the most tangible impact on students’ understanding. One of the most exciting things was the moment when I realised that students were so well-drilled in the process of finding the verb and translating the inflected ending that a strange consequence arose: when first introduced to sentences that had a noun for a subject like “puellae monent” (“the girls warn”), students often translated it as “the girls, they warn” then looked puzzled. Hallelujah. Once it was explained to them (and reiterated several times) that when a sentence contains a subject such as “the girls”, this replaces the pronoun (they) in their translation, there was no problem.

The habit of reading from left to right is so ingrained that it remains something which students need to be reminded of constantly. Once drilled in inflection, however, I find that even with the weakest students, all I need to do is point at the verb ending and they immediately adjust their translation to reflect the verb ending. This gentle process must be repeated again and again. It comes after weeks, months, years of drilling them on their verb endings. All of my students, even the weakest in the class, were able to write down their verb endings from memory and could tell me what they meant. The biggest chaellenge remained breaking that reading habit, but at least my refusal to let them rely on the subject pronoun has given them a fighting chance. By the time students reached the end of Year 8 and the start of Year 9, the habit was all but broken.

That’s how long it takes and that’s how important it is.

Why is tutoring so effective?

As a teacher of 21 years as I have spent my day job teaching groups of 25, 30 or even more. I remain fascinated by the different dynamics of the one-to-one setting in comparison to the mainstream model.

One-to-one tutoring is remarkably powerful compared to what teachers can achieve in the mainstream classroom. As a tutor, I have taken students from the bottom of their class to the top; I have also witnessed other tutors do exactly the same for students who were at the bottom of my own classes. So what is it about what tutors do that can make us so effective?

The overwhelming benefit comes – in my opinion – from the opportunity to delve in and unpick a student’s understanding – or rather their lack of it. I usually uncover a whole raft of small misconceptions or gaps in a student’s knowledge within the first session. I imagine a student’s developing knowledge of a subject as like a wall; students who come to a tutor for help have often got bricks throughout that wall that are either misshapen or missing altogether, causing the whole structure to be at risk of collapse. This is where tutoring comes in: repointing, replacing and reinforcing the bricks as required.

During the process, a tutor can build a real relationship of trust. Some of these students are so convinced that they’re “rubbish” or simply can’t do it that the revelation that they can understand the concepts in front of them is remarkably powerful. It is not that a tutor necessarily knows their subject and better than the classroom teacher – it is the fact that a tutor has one-to=one time dedicated solely to one child’s needs; it is also that the tutor is (or should be) skilled in identifying and resolving a host of minor misconceptions or gaps in a child’s knowledge that are holding them back. The result can seem like a miracle.

There’s a lot of talk in education that teachers can and should be doing this – that through the right kind of differentiation every single child’s needs can be met by their classroom teacher. The truth? This is absolute nonsense. Of course classroom teachers can’t do that, as anyone who has been one will tell you. Of course children with particular needs can fall behind in the mainstream classroom – those who have missed a large amount of the curriculum through absence, those with SEND, those who have fallen behand for whatever reason and indeed those who are ahead of their peers.

Students who often suffer the most are the quiet ones – they can fall behind without being noticed; yet they can have enormous potential in a subject – again without being noticed. I’ve thought a lot in my work about non-verbal cues, those tiny indications that an individual student can give off when they’re not following something – a twitch of the mouth, a furrow of the brow. In tutoring, that’s the moment to pause and rewind: it’s an absolute joy to be able to do so. In the classroom, not only do I not have time to respond to every non-verbal cue but the reality is I am more than likely to miss the majority of them in the sea of 30 faces.

Like anything, there are of course downsides to the one to one setting as well as benefits. Tutoring can be at risk of lacking direction – you’re potentially not following a set curriculum, rather tailoring each session to the child, and as a result the sessions can seem to lack direction and it can be hard for inexperienced tutors to assess where to go next in terms of content. Similarly, how does one pitch one’s expectations and also how does one manage those of a client who’s paying for our services? Some parents see a tutor as the panacea for everything, not realising that what their child needs is – for example – some basic but regular help with learning their vocabulary. Of course, tutors can and should advise on the methodology, and there is definitely a place for a skilled subject-expert working on vocabulary with a child as part of their time together; but parents sometimes need to invest a little of their own time in their children’s progress too. Vocabulary learning should be done little and often (ideally in short bursts every single day); so unless you can afford to employ a full-time live-in tutor (and believe me, there are some families who actually do so!) then you need to spend some time on supporting your child with their learning.

One of the biggest issues to consider in the one-to -one setting is the risk of cognitive overload, especially in sessions lasting an hour. (I counsel clients against the hour-long model for this very reason). One-to-one tutoring is remarkably intense, both for the student and for the tutor, so we really do need to consider how to pace our sessions to mitigate against this. Cognitive overload is counter-productive and can make students even more anxious and overwhelmed; tutors need to consider how not to over-burden students’ working memory during the session whilst still keeping the level of challenge high.

I have enjoyed my 21 years at the chalkface immensely and my time in the mainstream classroom has gifted me with what I hope will be a long-lasting insight into the problems that my clients are facing when they come to me; it also grants me an insight into the challenges faced by teachers and my aim will always be to support them in the almost insurmountable challenges they face. Tutors should never undermine the classroom teacher, nor use resources that could ruin their lesson: there is nothing worse for a classroom teacher than handing out a resource and then hearing a child pipe up “I did this with my tutor at the weekend!” So don’t do that, please! In an ideal world, a tutor should be able to communicate with the classroom teacher to enable a powerful support network to form around a child who is struggling – I think we are a long way off teachers reaching that level of trust just yet (something I might explored in another post), but I hope to see it happen before the end of my career.

Summer term: and the teaching is not easy

It never fails to depress me just how much curriculum time goes out of the window in the second half of the summer term. This yearly saga is not simply the inevitable result of the students (not to mention the staff) being frankly desperate to begin their summer holidays; the atmosphere is facilitated – even promoted – by our school systems and by the people who organise them. Boy, do we make life difficult for ourselves in the summer term.

The run-down to the summer holiday has always been punctuated by events that disrupt the calendar. Year 10 Work Experience, that hilarious misnomer “curriculum week”, sports day, reward events and summer camps of various guises; one of my clients talked about an ominous-sounding “bush week” – something I am very glad to say I have never been forced to endure in my career. To some extent, these events in themselves send a message to students that we’re in summer festival mode and it’s time to wind down. Yet some of them (perhaps – dare I say it – even the bush week) have unquestionable value and I acknowledge that they have to happen sometime. So why not now?

One of the things I have thought about the most in my final year at the chalkface is the messaging we send out to our students: not just in what we say but in what we do. There is much talk about how important it is to model good behaviour, to show students what “good” looks like by demonstrating excellence, good manners and commitment at all times. So what message are we sending them, do we think, when things start winding down three weeks prior to the end of term? Three weeks is around 8% of the curriculum time we have with them. That’s 8% of curriculum time that is so disrupted that the only way to manage it as a classroom teacher is basically to write it off; I’ve always said that if you haven’t finished the overwhelming majority of what you need to teach by May half term then you’re going to struggle to finish it at all, as the second half of the summer term is a total bun-fight. My worry, however, is that this messaging leads to one inevitable conclusion for our students: that the curriculum doesn’t really matter that much after all.

Beyond the realities of curriculum time, we also create quite a problem for ourselves when it comes to behaviour. Children thrive on routines and boundaries and when those routines and boundaries become disrupted then behaviour gets worse. We all know this. Yet in some schools, just one day’s hot weather apparently means that students can’t possibly wear their (summer) uniform and are instead allowed to attend school in their PE kit – a concession that puzzles me given that at least one of the purposes of school is to prepare them for adult working life; last time I checked, most employers don’t allow their workforce to come into the office in a pair of loose-fitting boxers just because the thermometer has hit 30 degrees for a day or two. By all means, encourage students to remove blazers, loosen ties, remove garters or adjust whatever other crazy form of attire the school has chosen as its marker; this would happen in most adult settings – even the most formal – in extreme weather conditions. However, if schools choose to have a uniform (and most schools do) then the messaging has to be that the wearing of that uniform not only matters but matters a great deal. Why? Because otherwise the subliminal message that you’re sending out is this: we have rules, but they don’t always get enforced and so in the grand scheme of things they don’t actually matter.

Incidentally, uniform and how it is worn is something I have completely changed my mind about over the years. When I first entered the profession I saw no no reason whatsoever to sanction students for not tucking in their shirts or doing up their ties. “What does it matter?” I thought. “I want them to be thinking about the learning, not fussing about their clothes.” Correcting a child’s uniform seemed to me to be part of the gradgrindian system that I – a liberal educationalist- was dead set against. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I now believe that if we are in the business of preparing young people for all walks of life then that applies to everything: the fact that they may have to dress and act a certain way in certain circumstances, the fact that institutions have rules that they will be expected to respect if they want to be part that institution (their choice either way – that’s part of the gift we impart to them). Beyond this, and perhaps even more crucially, it simply isn’t fair to expect children to understand that adults mean what they say but only in certain circumstances; that some rules matter but others don’t; that I mean what I say when I tell students not to talk over each other, or not to run in the corridors, but not when I ask them to correct their uniform. My view would be that if you can’t get on board with being strict on uniform then get rid of it.

This final summer in school has felt like the hardest. Schools have been under immense pressure to cram in all the activities that our students have missed out on in the last couple of years. We feel like we owe them and in many ways I believe that we do. Society owes a great debt to its youth, whose lives have been curtailed and controlled to a degree that – in any normal circumstances – we would consider completely unacceptable. And not only that, they have been curtailed for the sake of the oldest and most vulnerable members of society. In all honesty I have been truly stunned at how they have taken it with such extraordinary good grace: we all owe them a great deal of gratitude. Yet – in my view – that debt is not paid by pandering to their every whim and by punching yet more holes in a curriculum that has already been eviscerated. Indeed no. We offer them that payback by being our most consistent, most loving, most insistent best. By believing that they can handle it.

Show me your best is now my mantra: for I believe that we can and should expect more of our young people: that they can do so much better than most adults expect them to do.

The one that got away

Last week I received a message from the past. An old student, now in his 20s and travelling the world in what must amount to a long-awaited rite of passage for that generation, who had their wings clipped by the pandemic just as they soared into adulthood.

This student was a highly intelligent young man who excelled in Latin, despite his best efforts to manifest as a rebel without a cause. We’ve all met them and they’re usually boys. Boys with attitude. Boys with a desire to say to the world: “I’m here, I’m different and the system doesn’t own me.” Most of them turn out to be jolly sensible once they’ve worked out that the bills need paying somehow.

“I’ve had many a thought since leaving school about the absolute ****hole I could be at times. I hope that everyone in the teaching profession knows how much they are appreciated by ex-students, even if the appreciation wasn’t shown at the time.”

He apologised for his bad language but said he couldn’t think of a better word to describe his behaviour in my Latin classes in Year 11. Once I had thanked him for his approach, we had a lovely chat, he proving very much his claim to have matured and developed since his 16th year. Well of course he has. They all do. And it’s lovely when they come back to you and acknowledge that maybe – just maybe – they might have been a little bit of a pain. It’s also a reminder that you never really know the impact you have had, and that the students you recall as the most unappreciative may turn out to remember you the most fondly. Certainly it has set me thinking about the ones that I failed. Some of them achieved perfectly respectable results in Latin, but if they didn’t remain as engaged, committed and motivated as I thought they should be, it always felt like a personal slight. This never changes, no matter how many years you spend at the chalkface. You might stop crying about it after the first few years, but that’s just learning to manage your own feelings: it never truly goes away.

As it happens, this particular student was not the most difficult member of his class, although he did sometimes act as a catalyst for the one who was. And oh, how he was. Let’s call him Dominic. Dominic I will remember until the day I die. Not because he was a nightmare in my classroom but precisely because, for most of his school years, he was a perfect angel. For me. Nobody else. I don’t know what I did or didn’t do, I don’t know whether it was the nature of my subject or the cut of my jib. He behaved. I remember one student remarking on it in Year 9: “You know, Dominic only behaves in Latin, Miss?” I did know. What I didn’t know was why. I carried on doing what I normally do. I used the system, in his case, consistently from the start of Year 7 to the middle of Year 10, it was only to reward, for I had no cause to sanction. In every other subject he received sanction after sanction, punishment after punishment. With wide-eyed horror I read of his behaviour in other classes, the things he said and did. It was utterly inexplicable. In Latin he was a translation machine: always onto extension work, competitive in all the right ways, diligent, focused.

Then one day, everything changed, or at least that’s how it felt. Dominic’s behaviour deteriorated and I began to see the boy I had read about on our behaviour management system, the one whom everyone else had seen from the start. I couldn’t believe it. My teaching hadn’t changed, or at least I didn’t believe that it had: maybe he would tell a different story. But from my perspective, my Jekyll had finally turned into Hyde. I was heartbroken.

Things were unpleasant but manageable throughout the second half of Year 10 but Year 11 turned into a crisis. Dominic had already been removed from more than one subject due to his unmanageable behaviour and when I found myself looking at the data for my Year 11 class after the Mocks, with a heavy heart I went to SLT and made the same request. The evidence was there in black and white. Dominic was already above target grade, and his presence in the room was causing so much disruption and distress to other members of the group that I had no choice as a professional but to remove him: several of the quietest girls were four grades below where they should have been and with all my energy and focus spent on managing Dominic, I simply couldn’t give those girls the time and attention they needed. SLT took one look at the data and agreed with me. So Dominic was removed from the class.

What happened in the end? Well, Dominic still smashed his H-prob grade, ending up with one that was two levels higher. It should have been three or even four levels higher, and would have been had he remained in my classes with the same level of application he had shown in previous years. I’d love to say that, once he’d been removed from the class, all those anxious girls met their target grades. They didn’t. However, they did better than they would have done had he still been there. What would I do differently? Honestly? I have no idea. To this day I can’t explain what happened.

When I tried to talk to him about it, Dominic laughed in my face. Laughed. It felt like a knife wound. This boy who had bought me a gift in Year 9, sought me out in secret because he was no doubt too embarrassed to hand it to me in front of his mates. A little fake pearl pendant on a fake silver chain, it remains one of my most treasured pieces of jewellery. But when in Year 11 I tried to ask him why things had changed for him and why he no longer seemed to enjoy Latin or to appreciate being in my classes, that same boy smirked at me and told me that Latin was boring.

Twenty-one years at the chalkface, seeing one or two cohorts of Year 11 students through every single year, a total of nearly 1000 students who concluded their Latin studies with the same positive attitude as when they had started. I can name dozens of students that stay in touch and remind me year on year of what I have to feel proud of. But I will always remember the one that got away.

Photo by Byron Breytenbach on Unsplash.

Back-to-School Nightmares and The Last Supper

No matter how long you’ve been on this side of the desk (almost 20 years for me), the back-to-school nerves never seem to go away.

It’s completely inexplicable. I like my job very much, I have a good work-life balance and I know for a fact that the second I set foot in the classroom, all will be right with the world. I don’t recall having a terrible first class with any group, certainly not since my training days; yet without fail, at the end of every summer, the feeling returns.

Over the years I have learnt to manage the process more effectively. I accept that it will be difficult to sleep the night before our return, so I stock up on an over-the-counter sleep remedy, which helps. After one awful year when I was plagued by horrendous anxiety-related gut cramps, I also watch what I eat and drink and am careful not to overload on food or on alcohol on the couple of nights before term starts; it’s just a little bit too easy, past experience has taught me, to enjoy the Last Supper only to end up paying for it in agony.

The last few nights of the summer holiday are often visited by anxiety dreams. For me, these tend to take the form of the nightmare class that won’t be quiet. Again, this is something that I do not expect to happen in reality but clearly the anxiety is there. Other colleagues have reported classic anxiety dreams involving lateness to work and (my personal favourite) being so late for a school trip that it was absolutely essential to leave home immediately and get behind the wheel of the school minibus completely naked; there was simply no time to get dressed, apparently.

My family and non-teaching friends find the nerves surprising and to some extent concerning. In truth, they are neither. For I know from others that my experience is not uncommon. As I settle into bed on the last night before the new academic year rolls around, teachers like me across the whole country will be lying awake.

There is comfort in that solidarity.