The return of The Great British Bake Off is a welcome addition to my summer holiday. You can’t beat the unadulterated joy of watching complete strangers bake well. Or, indeed, bake badly. It’s safe to say I have missed the sight of grown men and women weeping disconsolately over a battenburg and I am relieved that there will now be something to tweet about other than English-related minutiae.
However, before GBBO takes over my Twitter feed entirely, I have had a thought. And of course, when I have a thought (it is occasional and should be marked by fireworks and bunting), inevitably there is a blog post of some sort. So, without further ado, it occurred to me, whilst watching the first show of the new season, that teaching is a lot like The Great British Bake Off.
In what way is this true, my dear? Well, teaching is as old as the hills – ask the teachers of Norman conquerors. They must have been in intervention for years, learning English grammar. Can you feel the Saxon frustration, folks? “I just cannot imagine how we are going to get a decent pass rate this year (1066). The influx of EAL students is of grave concern.” I tried to translate that into Old English, but it didn’t work, so you’ll just have to imagine. Well, baking is also as old as the hills: “How are we going to bake good old-fashioned British fare when all these French ingredients are being drafted in? Pah!”
Maybe that’s why I know so many teachers who love GBBO; something in the process reminds them of what they face in the classroom and out.
We all start somewhere. Mixing the ingredients in GBBO reminds me of lesson planning. The recipe analogy is often used when lesson planning is discussed; ingredients, or parts of lessons, must be meticulously measured to ensure a perfect bake. After all, who wants to risk putting in too much flour (teacher talk) as it might dry out the sponge (engagement levels)? Of course, sometimes, you need more flour. It is (and I nod in deference to the traditionalists), a vital ingredient and far more important than all those frivolous cherries on top.
And we all have our Signature Bake, don’t we teachers? That lesson you roll out because you know it is spectacular and you’ve taught it before, so many times. The bake has been good, the students have made better than expected progress, there are no soggy bottoms (students coming in below a Level 4 have been more than catered for) and your sponge on this one is definitely not dry. You have engaged in whichever way is appropriate for your challenge. Here, I feel it is my duty to point out that it’s not a good idea to turn students over to tap their bottoms to check progress. That’s not okay.
Moving swiftly on, you’ve definitely cracked the behaviour of the cake. Obsessive oven-watching is reminiscent of behaviour management in classrooms. You’ve set the temperature, you’ve established a time for baking. And now, when all is done, you are waiting (the equivalent of sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of an oven door), waiting to that cake to rise – to expectations.
You’ve already dealt with ‘decoration’. You’ve definitely got a preference: Powerpoint, SmartBoard, Promethean, sturdy old chalk and slate, but your resources are prepared. Damn, that bake is going to look good after it has made progress. Like student books. Flawless icing on the cake.
Everyone hates the technical challenge. It’s the exam preparation of the Bake Off. It is the English Language controlled assessment of BBC One. No one knows what they are doing and they keep checking other tables to see if they’ve got it right. I despair.
The process needs Mel and Sue. Think of them as Bake Off Assistant Principals in charge of Teaching and Learning. They come round, on their ‘baking walks’, offering advice and support. You need them because they function as mocksted inspectors; it’s a formative evaluation of the bake/lesson, sampling your off-cuts, critiquing the decoration, asking about your soggy bottom. They are never needed more than when you experience The Great Cake Drop – when a lesson goes wrong and it’s almost unsalvageable. Mel, Bake Off SLT with experience of this kind of thing, can offer consolation. Sue, a joke and some whisky, probably.
The show has its own form of Ofsted inspection in the quite glorious shapes of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. If you like, they are the summative inspectors – coming in with a day’s warning to prod your cake and raise a brow. Brought round to each ‘table’ by a nervous looking Mel and Sue, they impart their own wisdom. They’ve been doing it for years, don’t you know. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry: Cake Inspection Team. Never knowingly underbaked.
The question on everybody’s lips is whether we ought to grade that bake. Is it an outstanding bake? Does that word even work in teaching or baking? What does it mean? It is a good bake? Is it a bake that requires improvement? Will the baker go into special measures?
The show wouldn’t be complete as an analogy without its nod towards performance management. Star baker – give that person a TLR. Going home? Suggest that they find ‘employment’ elsewhere, out of sight of cake-trays and KitchenAids.
Ultimately, GBBO reminds me that I may have dropped my cake, made more than one dry sponge, had a few soggy bottoms and been harangued by the Paul Hollywood of Ofsted inspectors (actually not true – no one has those crinkly blue eyes on the Ofsted team), but sometimes – just sometimes – I make an amazing cake. And those students eat that cake right up. And I take my apron off, wipe my floury brow and know I am okay to bake another day.
Now where did I put my icing spatula?