Apparently surgeons debate the merits of different colours of scalpel. During operations, certain utensils can be grasped more readily if, in the periphery of your vision, you see the colour you need, grab the scalpel and go for the ventricular. Goodness knows, if you make a mistake, you might find that you have a lot of cerebrospinal fluid on your hands. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)
Writing mano a mano*, from one profession to another, it’s pretty much the same in the classroom as it is in the operating theatre. Whilst a doctor is saving lives; I’m saving minds. The doctor is making precise, in-the-moment decisions about which bit of you to cut off; I’m deciding whether you really do need the toilet.
Judges also frequently debate, in their Judge magazine (2000AD) and on LegTwitter (the rather unfortunate abbreviation of Legal Twitter), the merits of different colours of gavel for different levels of judgement. There is, according to a tweet I wrote, a gavel called the ‘Green Gavel of Gravitas’ that is reserved for particularly onerous judgements. It was last used when Mark King (from Level 42) allegedly had his case against the education profession quashed because it turned out that, unbeknownst to him we were all talking about ‘MARKING’ and not, well, you get the gist of it. It’s a really great gavel.
So, I’m a lot like a judge too. No, I don’t have a gavel. And yes, my underwear is probably a bit more normal than a judge’s, but I do make judgements. Admittedly, my judgements are mainly about whether you really do need the toilet or not.
As well as a judge and a doctor, I’m also a bit like a mythological Irish giant. I frequently stride around the classroom (like Fionn mac Cumhaill*) with a pair of highlighter pens clasped onto my belt on either side, like small, anachronistic weapons. One is yellow (Y is for ‘mistakes YOU have made’, in SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar); the other is blue (B is for ‘better – something you could improve’).
Yes, I do think I am an Irish giant with Batman’s utility belt. And, yes, my lessons may sometimes resemble nothing less than a hailstorm of acronyms overlaying a blizzard of multi-coloured metaphors – a rainbow of meaning that might very well trail from a unicorn’s bottom as it soars over a chasm. But, like a doctor without his puce pliers, if I can’t hang an analogy off an aquamarine crayon, the game is truly up.
I like having different colours for things and I like conjuring up analogies and acronyms to make what I’m talking about in the classroom more memorable. Being organised, for a teacher, is more than essential. Pull any teacher’s trousers down, and I can guarantee with total certitude that they will be wearing underpants with the current day printed on them. Yes, the print will be a bit faded, there may be some discolouration around the middle of the word, but I think my point is well-made: teachers need things to be just so for the classroom to function as it should. Crucially, teachers need to use visual cues such as colour, as a metalanguage (if you will) or paralanguage (if you’d prefer), in order to make the routines and content of their lessons as clear and ordered as they can be.
If you’ve chanced upon my timeline on Twitter, you’ll appreciate that I’m deadly serious about pens. Big pens, small ones, all the colours (green, red, purple, yellow, actually not yellow. I’ve changed my mind: yes, yellow). Pens are integral to my practice (my oeuvre). They are my scalpel and my gavel.
When a surgeon reaches for the wrong scalpel, there’s a serious risk that a life may be mistakenly curtailed (or the surgeon may simply look at the scalpel for a brief moment, realise her mistake and choose the correct one). When a judge reaches for the wrong colour of gavel, there’s a real chance that a judgement could be passed that may not have the weight that it would have had had its weight been matched by the colour of gavel that would have given that judgement its requisite weight. When Fionn mac Cumhaill strides around the Giant’s Causeway in underpants that have the wrong day of the week on them, he’s going to feel pretty uncomfortable and probably feel that something is amiss. He’ll probably have to spin around three times or something when he has to take them off that night.
I should imagine he takes them off at night. They’d get a bit foisty if he kept a pair on for more than a day, what with all that striding.
Imagine the discolouration.
*Spanish for ‘hand to hand’, but for some reason persists in my brain as ‘man to man’ – so both sexist and wrong. Not bad for an evening’s writing.
*I thought his name was Finn MaGool. Thanks again, Wikipedia, my Irish mythological bacon is safe with you.