Sisyphus got nothing on me

I went back to my spinning class this week for the first time in well over a month. It was hell. All the good work of last year undone by a December of making merry. I felt like Sisyphus in the halls of Tartarus, back at the bottom of the hill ready to try and roll his rock to the top again. The only difference being that this time around the rock is heavier, at least according to my scales.

Rock ‘n Roll

The very next day the feeling was compounded as I returned to school for the first time. As I opened up the door and windows to air the room it all felt very similar to my spinning class, and not only because my body was still aching. Teaching, with the cycle each new year brings, is Sisyphean in nature. Same school calendar, same curriculum, same hill to climb. Pushing the rock ever upwards through the academic year just to see it roll back inches from the summit. This is true rock ‘n roll.


It reminds me of the poem, ‘First Day Back’, by Allan Ahlberg that I used to read out to my primary school classes early in my career.

First day back at school
Children clean and neat
New coasts hang on coat pegs
New shoes shine on feet.

School hall smells of polish
Toilets smell soap
Children meet new teachers
Faces full of hope.

Techers give new books out
Children start new page
Up the curtain rises
On the same old stage.

Allan Ahlberg

Except while the stage may be the same each year, the participants in the play are not. Each year brings a brand-new crop of students into the school, or at least into our classes, for the first time. Even the pupils we already know will be different in the sense that growth and change is so rapid at this age that it can feel like you are dealing with a whole new person after just a short period of time. So, while the hill may be the same, the rock is a little different each year.

Every lesson shapes a life

As educators it is important to remember that while this may feel like the same gig for us, for our pupils it is a whole new world. During the holidays I was watching some West End performers talking about staying motivated during a long running show. For the actors it is hard to keep the performance energy up after the 5th, 6th week, let alone the 5th or 6th month. Yet for most of the 2000 plus people in the audience it is their first experience of the show, even months after the opening night, and their expectations are high.

Similarly, we owe it to our young people to continue to give of our best. To keep ourselves up to date, our pedagogy effective and sharp, and our curriculum relevant. We have to show up and keep moving that rock forward one day at a time.

As an aside I think it’s worth reflecting that we do this as a team. The students you encounter for the first time in the next few days have been developed and prepared by teachers before you, and at the end of the year you are going to be handing them onto to others.  This clip created by the Department of Education in the UK a few years ago eloquently portrays this concept.

So, this year keeping pushing your charges up that hill knowing that you are unlikely to see the finished product or complete the task in its entirety. Nonetheless your task is significant, your colleagues and the children themselves are counting on you. Bend your back, take a deep breath, begin the task and do it well.

See you at the top.


  1. I love this bit – such an important reminder: Yet for most of the 2000 plus people in the audience it is their first experience of the show, even months after the opening night, and their expectations are high. Thanks, Tim. Great post.


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