Brownian Motion, Staff Rooms and Bromeliads

Individuals aren’t naturally paid-up members of the human race, except biologically. They need to be bounced around by the Brownian motion of society, which is a mechanism by which human beings constantly remind one another that they are…well…human beings.

— Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms

Happiness is . . . not having an office.

I had a job once where I had an office. It was a quite a nice office. And I had it all to myself. It was a quiet, pleasant little space with a small kitchen nearby. It even had natural daylight through a large window Perfect, you might think.

But I grew to hate that office. You see, I think that teachers — more than anyone, perhaps — need, occasionally, to be “bounced around by the Brownian motion of society”. 

What is Brownian motion? Well, it was first observed by botanist Robert Brown in 1827, who noted that, under a microscope, pollen grains in water seemed to “jiggle” randomly. Brown at first assumed that this motion was due to the “life force” of the pollen grains; however, he dispensed with this idea when he saw particles of stone dust (reportedly taken from the Great Pyramid to make sure they were completely and utterly devoid of life) perform the same drunken, wiggly waltz that came to be known as Brownian motion.

And there the matter rested, for a while. And then in 1905, a young patents clerk, working in his spare time at a kitchen table in a very modest apartment in Geneva, suddenly discovered the explanation — and more, much more.

The patents clerk’s name was, of course, Albert Einstein. His explanation rested on the insight that the visible pollen or dust particles were being buffeted by invisible water particles. His mathematical analysis was not only the first verifiable evidence of the actual physical existence of atoms, but also established their size. Understanding the movement and nature of the unobservable by minute and careful scrutiny of the observable…

Looking back at the job with its own office, I think I missed the simple daily dose of teacherly Brownian motion that you get by simply stepping into a staff room. Are you a little too-full-of-yourself-by-half? Some friendly ego-puncturing banter is usually on tap. At your wit’s end with a difficult student or class? A sympathetic shared eye-roll can work wonders. Plus there might even a few good ideas thrown in for good measure.

A good school staff room is not always synonymous with a “good” school, but a good staff room can make even a “bad” school bearable — enjoyable, even! — and the lack of one can make even an “outstanding” school feel like a souless and joyless treadmill.

If you are being interviewed by more than one school, choose the one that has the beat-up, well-used furniture in the staff room, replete with dirty coffee mugs and tottering piles of unmarked marking whose lower layers are being spontaneously formed into sedimentary rock by the crushing pressure from above.

Sadly, I feel that that this type of staff room is a vanishing phenomenon. I suppose that I am like a dinosaur complaining that bromeliads these days don’t taste as nice as the bromeliads they had in the old days.

Teachers today just aren’t rubbing elbows as much as they used too. H’mmm. Maybe that’s why we don’t have to wear elbow patches any more…

But that does not detract from this universal truth that should, I feel, be more universally acknowledged: if a staff room is suspiciously neat and clean and looks like an airport lounge…RUN AWAY!

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7 Comments

Filed under Education, Humour, Society

7 responses to “Brownian Motion, Staff Rooms and Bromeliads

  1. Where is Emerson? Terry Pratchett and not Emerson? I want a divorce! ๐Ÿ˜‚

  2. “Happiness is . . . not having an office”
    I reckon offices are age dependent. When I was young I needed one for P&Q, but then as a jnr manager I could do my thinking outside the open plan office. School (& College – my final job ) staff rooms can be noisy but at least in the former you can get P&Q in a classroom outwith core hours. Finally, sorry to play the H&S card, there should be some cleanliness (and to a certain extent tidyness) in public spaces, otherwise …

    PS I like pineapples as pictured https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromeliaceae

  3. I loved this. I’m so old that there was even a smoking room adjacent to the staffroom in one school where I taught. That was the place to go to when you needed to moan about SLT. I’ve heard that some schools don’t even have a staffroom these days, although hopefully that’s just an urban myth.

    • As a pupil, I remember there being a fug of tobacco smoke every time the staff room door opened (which, as I recall at least) was very, very rarely. In my first year of teaching, staff were allowed to smoke in the smoking section of the staff room, which was separated from the non-smoking section by…well, fresh air (which became progressively less fresh as breaktime and lunchtime wore on). The next year, smoking was banned and I remember dashing home to my flat (5 mins walk away) each lunchtime to chain smoke 4 ciggies in a row and wolf down a sandwich…Sigh! – what fools we are when we’re young…

  4. What if there is no staff room?

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