Stay On The Bus

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shutterstock_315885491 Helsinki sign


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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If teachers quit the classroom, do they reach their ‘best before end’ date too early? And what is the reason behind this?

We know that teaching is a tough job, no matter where, what or how you teach. What is fascinating for those who have been in the classroom for 10 years or more, is that they will really understand how much it has changed and why data is replacing classroom pedagogy more and more in our schools.

One of the downsides of rapid reform, is that accountability has generated an increase in workload. Ofsted perhaps can be assigned much of the blame for this pressure, with rogue inspectors, myths and fads determining what we ‘have to show’ in classroom observations. Yet despite some usefulness, Department for Education league tables have steered focus away from head teachers and senior leadership teams, to game the system to ensure what is required, meet floor standards and keep inspectors at a distance …

Frozen Conditions?

Classroom teachers bear the brunt of national accountability, with more need for all of us to keep focused on student data rather than a love of teaching our subjects, imparting knowledge and developing skills. The government also set benchmarks and standards for the profession.

shutterstock_719662 Snowstorm in Helsinki, Finland

Image: Shutterstock

For the past few years, the government has frozen teachers’ pay – with capped wage rises at just 1% a year for 5.3 million public sector workers, which is also a fall in real terms every year until 2020 and is still not yet in-line with other professions – and yet, our increased pension contributions (NAHT source) have increased two-fold to be more in-line with other professions!

So, why do I make this point? And what has it to do with teachers handing in their resignations?

Doing Unique Work:

Well, last week, I discovered Stay on the Bus: The Proven Path to Doing Unique Work by James Clear.

This article sums up perfectly why we carry on teaching and it is a wonderful read.

Despite government reform and criticism, we will still be in the classroom after the likes of Gove, Osbourne and Nicky Morgan have moved onto other projects. As teachers, we do unique work. Our disposition is one that nurtures and inspires others in a variety of challenging circumstances. This includes government reform and rhetoric.

In June of 2004, Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen stepped up to the microphone at the New England School of Photography to deliver an opening speech. Minkkinen shared a simple theory that, in his estimation, made all the difference between success and failure. He called it The Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory

Minkkinen was born in Helsinki, Finland. In the centre of the city there was a large bus station and he began his speech by describing it to the students.

“Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city,” Minkkinen said.

“At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. Each bus takes the same route out of the city for at least a kilometre, stopping at bus stop intervals along the way.”

shutterstock_411510922 HELSINKI, FINLAND - APRIL 23, 2016: Local buses on The Helsinki Railway Square (Rautatientori) near The Central Railway Station Building. The station building was designed by Eliel Saarinen.

Image: Shutterstock

He continued, “Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer. Meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity. Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.”

“You take those three years of work to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on. Shocked, you realise that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.”

shutterstock_413779465 HELSINKI, FINLAND - APRIL 23, 2016: Zoobus near The Central Railway Station Building. The local bus number 16 with pictures of animals rides to Korkeasaari Island, where located Helsinki Zoo

Image: Shutterstock

“So you hop off the bus, grab a cab – because life is short – and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.”

“This time,” he said, “you are going to make 8×10 view camera colour snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane. You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that elicit the same comment. Haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8 x 10s of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?”

“So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.”

“Stay on the F**king Bus”

Minkkinen paused. He looked out at the students and asked, “What to do?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus. Because if you do, in time, you will begin to see a difference.”

“The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line, but only for a while—maybe a kilometre or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north. Bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another, but soon they split off as well. Irving Penn is headed elsewhere.”

“It’s the separation that makes all the difference,” Minkkinen said. “And once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire—that’s why you chose that platform after all—it’s time to look for your breakthrough.


Maybe we need to keep the faith that things will get better? I have a solution to resolve the recruitment problems in teaching:

  1. Leave our terms and conditions alone.
  2. No more reforms until the next General Election.
  3. Continue to reform Ofsted to become peer-led and a light-touch process.
  4. Reform league tables e.g. not annual measure.
  5. Give the proposed College of Teaching status to set standards of teaching.

You can read James Clear’s full article on Minkkinen here.


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