Of Einstein and Fish

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

This is a quotation, attributed to Albert Einstein, which is repeated over and again all over the internet every time our government makes a proposal about education that some people disagree with. To me, it’s one of life’s little annoyances. Why?

Well, for starters Albert Einstein never actually said it. If you don’t believe me take a few moments to Google it now, and if you find any proof at all that he did, please leave a link in the comments below.

Secondly, it’s untrue. If fish had never climbed trees there would be no tree-dwelling animals now and there would be no humans. We’d all still be swimming round at the bottom of the oceans.

Thirdly, it’s even more untrue. There are actually fish, living today, which can climb trees. Seriously. Google it.

Fourthly, it’s a downright lie. Not everyone is a genius. Most of us aren’t. The ones who are make it into the history books.

And Lastly? It’s just a cop out! It’s a way of absolving ourselves from the responsibility of educating our children.

When I look back over my childhood, there are two types of teachers who stand out. There are the ones who made me believe I could do anything if I tried and who then gave me the confidence to try, and there are those who told me I’d never climb trees because I was a fish. I’ll never forget Mr Holmes, who saw the potential behind the timid little mouse and gave me a speaking part in the school play. I’ll also never forget the music teacher (who I won’t name) who told me that with a voice like mine I really shouldn’t sing, because over 30 years later I can’t even sing along to the radio if I think someone else is within earshot .

Our job as teachers is not to look at our class and sort them into runners, swimmers, fliers and climbers. Our job is to equip every child with shoes, flippers, wings and ropes and to make sure that every single one of them achieves all of the skills to the best of their ability.

Some of them may run marathons and some may never run further than the corner of the road; some may swim the channel and some may just about doggy paddle their way to a 5m badge; some may soar high above the ground and some may only hover a few centimetres from the floor; some might make it to the top of the tree and some may never make it past the first branch. But with the right teaching and encouragement, there is no reason why any child in a mainstream school, and most children in special schools, shouldn’t run and swim and fly and climb.

So you’ll never find me retweeting nonsense about Einstein and fish. Instead you’ll find me in my classroom, helping some of the children build a ladder to reach the first branch and holding a safety net to encourage the others to reach for the top of the tree. Who’s with me?


Last year I was asked to plan and teach “e-safety” to upper KS2 for half a term. My first thought was “Half a term? Two weeks will be plenty! What on earth can I do for 7 weeks?” I obviously didn’t want to spend a half a term going over and over the same things because it would be boring and pointless.

I asked those lovely people on Twitter for some help and got pointed towards a great resource which then led me onto other resources and ideas and before I knew it my 7 weeks were full.

First of all I used this excellent video from CEOPS to introduce the topic. It’s pitched just about right for that age-group – not too babyish, and clearly shows the potential dangers of social networking sites, without being so graphic that children go home and have nightmares. I have just one word of caution about the video: some of the lower ability children took it very literally and believed that as long as they didn’t leave their front door open they would be safe, and it took a while to help them understood otherwise. Others believed that because the man in the video was arrested at the end, that the correct response to anything computer related was to call the police. It took the remaining 6 weeks to convince them that the best way to deal with spam email was not dialling 999.

However, that aside, the video prompted a very lively discussion about the dangers of chatting to people you don’t know on the internet, and about things that would help people find out more about you from photos: school uniform, names on clothing/jewellery, road name signs in the background…

We talked about how to make sure that privacy settings were secure, and what to do if anybody they’d been talking to made them feel uncomfortable.

The children completed a Venn diagram (which I found here) of statements involving talking face to face and talking over the internet. We looked at the Zip it Block it Flag it  slogan and what it meant, and the children role played giving advice to a friend who was planning to meet up with someone they had just met on the internet.

After this we spent some time looking at cyberbullying, helped out by this superb video from the Smart Crew at Know it All. The children talked about the best way to protect themselves from cyberbullying (eg making sure their privacy settings were set to make sure only their real friends could see their profile). They thought about the similarities and differences between cyberbullying and playground bullying, discussed in small groups what they should do if it happened to them or their friends, and made a list of trusted people they could talk to.

That was really all I’d thought about when I first started thinking about e-safety, but the fantastic Smart Crew had plenty of other ideas and videos to accompany them.  We looked at spam emails (how to recognise them and what to do about them) and viruses (how to avoid them, what to do if you get one) and the children discussed what advice they would give the younger children in the school.

Finally we looked at the reliability of information found on the internet (thanks again Smart Crew) and the best ways to make sure they found accurate information when doing research in school or at home.

As I only had 35 minutes for ICT each week, this filled most of the sessions, and just left enough time for the class to prepare a Powerpoint presentation in pairs to show what they had learnt, and then to present to the rest of the class for peer feedback. This gave an opportunity for assessment, and correcting any remaining misconceptions.

For teaching or tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit www.sjbteaching.com. For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

A Day in the Life of a Self-employed Teacher

Recently I signed up to a blogging challenge and one of the suggestions was to write a blog post about a typical day. That sounds all well and good…..except that I don’t have a typical working day!

Often I have work booked in in advance, which is great.  On those days I get ready for work and I go. Other days I wait to see if the phone rings. Most days it does and off I go to work. Other days it doesn’t and then I work from home.

But, whether the phone rings at the last minute, or the day is booked in advance, the work I do when I get there is the same though – right? Er…no! I teach across a whole range of ages, and teach every subject on the primary curriculum as well as specialising in languages.  One day I could be playing dolls houses and making chocolate crispie cakes in Nursery; the next teaching French to graduates at a local university. The day after that could be a 1960s themed day with Year 6, followed by a day split between Years 1 and 2 doing some Latin. The week could end with a day teaching deaf children.

On those days when I work from home the days are still varied. I maintain my own website and this blog, and also have responsibility for my husband’s website and blog for his tour guiding business. There are always emails that need answering and I sometimes proofread my husband’s translation work for him. I’m part of Team 100WC so I make sure I find time to read the children’s writing and leave comments for them.

I also take my CPD seriously, so a work from home day will include doing my homework for my British Sign Language level 3 course and reading and research for a level 3 course in Dyslexia Awareness, Support and Screening.

Four evenings a week and Saturday mornings I do private tuition for children aged 6-12, but again every lesson is different. Some of the children I work with need help with just maths, some just English and some both. Some have dyslexia and need a different sort of help, and some find the work they do at school easy and need stretching. As if that wasn’t enough variety, I am planning to branch out into 11+ tuition, and language teaching for businesses as well.

So – thanks very much to Nikki Pilkington for the suggestion in her 30 Day Blogging Challenge, but I’m afraid this is about as typical as it gets!