Teach like a Tardigrade


Dessication. Oooh, dessication.
It’s tough, writing about teaching; scratching around for the very latest in extended metaphors to apply to your everyday observations of school life.

Most teacher-writers worth their salt will work with an idea – a teaching technique or a pedagogical issue du jour – and overlay it neatly with an extended metaphor to package it just so and make it memorable or persuasive. 

Not me. 

For me, the extended metaphor comes first. I like to retrofit ideas around the extended metaphor. I’ll choose any old objet d’intérêt and turn it to my (often admittedly vague) purposes. I’ve done it with chinos, Phil Collins, boxing and even Mick Hucknall; and now I’m turning my twitchy eye to the tardigrade.

For those of you as yet unfamiliar with these chubby critters, a tardigrade is a microscopic creature (affectionately called a ‘water bear’) that has been wowing geneticists for the last few years with its backflips, its rude face and its genome.

I think tardigrades are the dudes and dudettes of the microscopic kingdom: they look like they are wearing puffa jackets; their faces go in and out in a way that is curiously arousing; and they manage to look massive whilst actually being only one millimetre long. They also have eight legs without having to be spiders. That’s genius… like a bus with six wheels, or a chinook.

What does all this have to do with teaching? Well, I’ll get to that as I think of it. But it’s obvious when you do give it some thought. In fact, once you’ve considered the ways in which teachers are, or should be like tardigrades, you will never be able to think of them in any other way. Ever. Again.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tardigrades are the most hardy creature not just on Earth, but in the entire known multiverse. And so are teachers.

Tardigrades can survive in space in much the same way that a teacher can shop for lingerie and hold an impromptu conversation with a parent (and their student son). In the same way that you would make light conversation and ask how their son’s revision was going, the tardigrade would completely dry up (dessicate) and go into a state of suspended dormancy.

Teachers can sustain themselves in any habitat without missing a heartbeat. If you’ve ever been out clubbing and been set upon by a gaggle of the mums of your students, you’ll know how adaptive teachers are to any unforeseen circumstances. Only the other day, I was teaching and some humorous trombone practice piped up from the classroom nextdoor. Didn’t miss a beat: I just walked around in time to each creaky parp. The kids thought it was my knees. Adaptable and in the moment, I am, just like a tardigrade.

Tardigrades have been in existence for millions of years. Most teachers have also been in existence for millions of years. I’m relatively young, but have been living in my classroom cupboard for at least one hundred thousand years. We’re hardy and perennial beasts, we are. I’ve been living off the felt from board erasers and highlighter ink for at least as long as tardigrades have been kicking their too-many legs around primordial gas swamps. I’ve taught a couple of ’em.

Tardigrades can incorporate foreign DNA into their genome.

I can do that.

INSET, DfE directives, old Teacher’s TV videos doing the rounds on TES: I’m up for the lot of it. I can incorporate any technique into my practice, regardless of its ideological or theoretical compatibility with the other things I do. You want me to teach Whole Language? No problem. I’ll just squeeze it in next to me phonics programme. You want me to teach the classics. No bother! Let me just wrap up with Captain Underpants (they love it) and I’ll crack open Anna Karenina in a trice.

Tardigrades manage to look enormous with their lumbering gait and puffa-jacketed chassis. All that despite being microscopic. Ask any teacher what it feels like to heave yourself onto your feet at the beginning of a lesson or an assembly, to take a deep breath and command that crowd: you know yourself to be a tardigrade. We punch above our weight every single day, winning most bouts against the odds.

Tardigrades have curiously arousing faces. (Now we come to the N of my Chino acronym.) Teachers – despite being hardy, able to dessicate themselves and rehydrate into life, and despite being millions of years old (every man and woman jack of them) – despite this, teachers all have extremely sexy faces. Don’t deny it. To deny this simple, self-evident fact is simply to repress the most natural instinct in the multiverse: the instinct to find a teacher’s face extremely sexy. Tell me I’m wrong and I’ll show you a phalanx of teachers all with very, very appealing visages. Like the tardigrade.

The sexy, long-living, adaptable and brave little tardigrades are just like teachers. However, teachers are not just like tardigrades; we’re actually an upgrade of the tardigrade.

Put me head to head with a tardigrade in the lingerie department of M&S, and I’ll ask it how its mocks are coming along. With no sign of a blink or a blush.

I’ll also have taught its mum.

And probably danced with her too.

So the next time you find yourself in a spot of bother as a teacher: puff yourself up, make with the sexy face, and give it the full pedagogical tardigrade.

Dessication’s what you need.


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