Anatomy of a joke

Person A walks onto the stage. He explains to the audience that although his Twitter name shares a word with someone else on Twitter, they are not to be confused. He then makes a gentle joke about how different they are by saying ‘He’s much taller than I am.’ (This is not a good joke and gets a murmur of a laugh across the audience. It is designed to be a gentle introduction. The audience are laughing politely and hoping things will get better soon.)

Person A then begins, in earnest, to talk about how he’s been looking at a lot of educational based research which is going to inform his talk. Person B enters and tells Person A to stop. He points out that he shouldn’t be doing research because, as we all learnt last year, this pretty much means you are a eugenicist. (This is a good joke for two reasons: firstly, it is a totally ludicrous suggestion in of itself; secondly, it harks back to a twitter-storm from the past that everyone in the room can remember. This joke will become funny again nearer the end of the talk for reasons we shall see later.)

Person B then reference the lame joke about Twitter names. He tells Person A that he has now been blocked. (This joke works because it recalls the sometime action of the referenced Tweeter and takes it to an absurdist level. Of course, the Tweeter would not have blocked someone for such a benign comment. The Tweeter only blocks when he has been insulted, trolled, threatened or vilified. He does it publicly with screenshots so everybody can see, hence why this joke gets a strong reaction. The audience are familiar with the context and are laughing at the exaggeration.)

Person A then asks for the reason that has been given for the block. Person B says that the reason for the block is because Person A has been antagonistic towards a Trad. (This joke works because it reminds the audience of the prog-trad wars that occur on Twitter. The joke would work with any combination of words as long as ‘trad’ was in there somewhere – or ‘prog’ for that matter.)

Person A then asks for the duration of the blocking and Person A replies that it is temporary. (This makes the audience laugh because it reflects one of the duration lengths that the referenced tweeter often assigns to tweets they have taken offence to. It also gets a laugh because Person B is using a dalek voice to deliver the line. This is funny, not because the referenced tweeter sounds like a dalek, but because it puts into the mind of the audience a picture of offending tweeters being exterminated, thus exaggerating the already ridiculous notion that such an innocuous comment would result in a blocking. The dalek voice also serves to lampoon the hysteria that the act of public blockings causes on prog-twitter. More importantly however, the dalek voice makes the word ‘temporary’ sound very funny.)

If you took the remainder of the talk and held up various sections as isolated segments, you could take offence, or at least be alarmed by, two leaders who, without any hint of irony…

  • Ask members of the audience to retrieve excrement from a bag.
  • Scream at, and berate, an unsuspecting member of the audience,
  • Advocate the forced tuition of yoga to teachers.
  • Recommend only doing things because people on twitter will like it.

If you saw the whole talk then you would have seen it build up to a climax with Person B admitting that they themselves had been conducting evidence based research in their own school. Riddled with self-loathing and stupidity, he then draws the only conclusion he can: he must be a eugenicist. (The audience find this funny because they recognise it as a call-back from the beginning of the show.)

Person A then explains to Person B how he is not a eugenicist and that he is a wonderful headteacher. (This is a joke because, as is revealed in the slides, Person A is only saying this stuff to increase his twitter following. This joke serves to undermine their entire talk and present them to the audience as two desperate social media ladder climbers. The show ends with Person B’s number of followers reducing to one solitary person. He has failed in his desire to use leadership in order to become popular.)


Taken out of context, few jokes work. If people want to assign meaning to other people’s words, that have been taken out of context, then they are free to do so. Nobody can really stop that. If a joke offends, when it is taken out of its context, then so be it. The Joker doesn’t need to apologise because to do so would require them to write out the jokes complete with a full contextual commentary in italics, and only an idiot would attempt this.

If a joke, within its context, offends then it may be because the subject is either too close to the bone (which may not necessarily make it a bad joke) or, it is just a bad joke.

Permission does not have to be granted for humour to be found in other people’s public actions. This is especially true if the purpose behind the humour is to drive home wider points within a specific context. But, of course, you won’t understand what that is if you haven’t been privy to the big picture in the first place. You will instead take the joke at face value, or at least, give it a value which suits your personal bias. The Joker cannot do much about this, that choice and interpretation has been yours and yours alone.

So, to conclude, if anyone wants to make a joke about anything I have ever publicly said or done then they are free to do so. I am fine with that because I understand that I write and say things in public. If it is a good joke, I’ll laugh along. If it’s not, and I am bothered by it, I may contact the joker personally and tell them I didn’t find it funny. They could then explain it to me, or apologise, or both.

If they didn’t, well, I could always block them.

Testing Tables


It’s half term! Time for rest, recuperation and a government announcement about testing. By now, this pattern of releasing information, that the DfE suspects a lot of teachers will hate, during school holidays is so commonplace it’s hardly worth mustering up the energy to be annoyed. And yet…

I don’t think the Gibb has quite grasped how edu-Twitter works. If he was hoping he could slip a new idea under the radar without teachers noticing, announcing it at a time when every teacher is wasting time on Twitter, rather than catching up on their marking, seems rather foolish. It is exactly during these term-time breaks when teachers actually will have the time to learn what their paymasters are planning. He should have announced it the week before the Christmas play, then we definitely wouldn’t have heard about it, even by now.

Anyway, times tables tests for primary school children. Cut straight to the strong opinions of educationalists across the internet and it’s a predictable cacophony of opinions: broken childhoods, stressed teachers, narrowing curriculum, exactly what is needed, maths is important, it’s a cynical ploy to create artificial accountability measures for schools, it’s helping teachers know the gaps, it’s undermining the professional respect for teachers’ assessments, but I quite liked learning my times tables when I was young…I could go on.

Now, it may be because I’m currently sunning myself in the Canary Islands where San Miguel is safer to drink than the tap water, but I’m not that bothered about these new tests. I can’t really see their true value and therefore I feel a little apathetic towards the whole thing.

First up, times tables are already on the curriculum so technically the children’s mental recall of them should be sound. Unless, like the phonic test, sorry ‘screening’, they plan to give the children some nonsense times tables to grapple with (the product of 7 and 23 is phlob), it should just be an electronic extension of the weekly times tables tests most children currently suffer on a Friday afternoon.

Then, of course, there is the argument put forward by so many Year 6 teachers: too many children arrive in Year 6 not being fluent in their times tables so bring on a bit more accountability for the lower year group teachers. Again, why not?

The reason ‘why not’ comes mostly from the fact that a child being able to answer a set number times tables questions in Year 4 will not necessarily mean they are fluent. Anyone who thinks they will be is guilty of wishful thinking. Some children will learn them and retain the information. Some won’t. Some will be able to learn them off by heart and retain them for a brief period of time but their rapid recall will become increasingly less rapid. Take me, for example, despite my mother’s best efforts, I can still only confidently remember the answer to 8 x 8 and that is because the answer vaguely rhymes with ‘sick on the floor’. If I were a Year 4 child I would be able to learn them in order to pass a test but I guarantee that my Year 6 teacher would be lamenting the fact that when asked a quick-fire multiplication question I would freeze up faster than a cherry popsicle in a blizzard.

The answer to getting children to have deep-set fluency is a quality curriculum that is built upon each year by effective teaching. This is trickier to pull off than a 5-minute online test but, hey, this is Mr Gibb we’re talking about. (And don’t give me that nonsense about only after administering this test will teachers know if their pupils know their times-tables…that’s just guff.)

So, in summary: it’s a little tedious and it won’t really mean much (if your school is focused on effective teaching and learning), but, it probably won’t hurt much either (if your school is focused on effective teaching and learning) . Number bond testing for Early Years kiddies however…now you’re talking.

Confessions of a #nobserver

I like to enter the classroom seven minutes after I agreed I would arrive. That way if the teacher hasn’t started teaching, out of fear of me missing the start of their performance, I can downgrade them, or, if they have started teaching, I can downgrade them for being impertinent.

My preferred position during the input is in the direct eyeline of the teacher. That way they can see every eye-roll, every check of my watch, every baffled squint at their plan, every raised eyebrow and, most importantly, every scribble of my pen.

Over the years I have perfected the ‘click’ of my ball point pen. The ‘quick-click’ for when I simply must note down an inadequacy that has just occurred. The deliberate ‘click…click’ that allows the teacher to really feel my disappointment. Then there is the ‘click and put away’ which signals to the teacher that I have given up all hope of seeing anything else worth recording.

Of course, it’s always important to carefully select the lesson itself when observing. Don’t just pick a random week of the term for your observations, look at the programmes of study. You don’t want to watch a lesson on calculation…boring! All they have to do is follow the damn policy and not say ‘take-away’ too many times. Any HLTA can do that. You want to choose something like ‘telling the time’. I’ve never once seen a lesson on time that actually taught anybody how to tell the time. They all sit there, looking down at the children, holding an outward facing clock close to their chests. Then they start stammering with self-doubt, as they try to remember whether a reversed twist of the dial will make the big hand quarter-past or quarter-to. Meanwhile all the little kiddies have discarded their mini plastic clocks in favor of getting Siri to tell the time in Swahili from the convenience of their apple watch.

I will loathe your tedious progressive approach to teaching. I will barely be able to contain my rage as you trot out your traditional patter. I will walk out of the room if you put on a hat and I will deduct points for every time you use your real voice. Your getting them quiet techniques are appalling. You should be using lollypop sticks to select which children respond to your closed-open-ended questions whilst simultaneously reading out your prepared questions for each and every child. Your use of thumbs up get the thumbs down from me, and, the less we talk about your metacognition strategies the better although why you are not encouraging children to learn learning is beyond me. If you decide to teach anything in a way that I have not taught it myself, I will beat you to death with my laminated copy of the teaching standards. (Circa 1985, 2012, 2017, 2020: which ever version I deem appropriate.)

After the teaching input – which will be too long or too short but never just right, trust me – you get to talk to the children. You wonder how we always know which children to go and speak to? How we always manage to pick the children you least want to represent the impact of your teaching? It’s not some innate knowledge that observers pick up like a vegan smelling hummus at a festival. It’s not because we’ve studied your data. We’ve bribed them. Each round of observations we gather up the little darlings and ask them to learn absolutely nothing for three weeks in return for a week’s authorized holiday immediately after Christmas. So, it is no surprise that when we ask them the essential question: what are you learning? Their answer invariably sounds like something the love child of Stig-of-the-Dump and Piers Morgan would say after six pints of special brew and a fight.

Then there’s the work that is set for them. It will be too easy, too hard or too consolidating…depending on my mood at the time. The use of resources will either be too concrete, too pictorial or too abstract or none of the above…depending on how I feel at that particular moment. The children will be making no progress or not enough progress, or, just enough progress which will not be enough progress because I need progress to be accelerated.

The thrill of the hunt comes in the many different ways you can kill the beast. The NQT is the cleanest kill. A few comments about subject knowledge and behaviour management normally do the trick. If they try and tell you that behaviour has improved, a withering comment about low expectations normally finishes them off nicely. The more experienced a teacher, the bloodier it gets. But, as my mother always said, if there isn’t blood on your apron you’re only cooking chips. I normally like to find out which modern trend in teaching is currently sending these old-timers into anaphylactic shock and use it to beat them into inadequate with. The reflective teachers are normally the messiest. They try and head you off at the pass by telling you what was wrong with the lesson. Insolent buggers. They try and roll with the punches in the hope that knowing it was a total disaster somehow makes it all better. Afraid not. And, before too long, I’ll have landed on something that even they didn’t see coming (normally something British Values) and that will be that.

If all goes well, it will be a completely limiting experience and one that will stay on your record for twice as long as it stays in your mind. But don’t worry, at least you know I’m not allowed to judge lessons anymore. At least, that’s what I tell you.


For the record, this isn’t how it should be done.