Marmite or Vanilla: What Flavour of Teacher Are You?


Courting popularity is a fool’s game. Of course it is. That’s that we tell the young people in our care. Yet how many of us have cast envious glances at the colleague who’s adored by the kids and has all those gushing ‘thank you/we’ll miss you’ cards pinned above the desk to prove it? Let’s face it, most of us like to be liked. And life is generally easier if you’re able to win the goodwill of others. Particularly when you play to an audience of hundreds daily.

Unfortunately, we can’t all be the cookies and cream teacher, partly because the goodwill of teenagers is far from infinite. The good news for those of us who aren’t showered with thoughtful notes and little gifts is that some of the best teachers aren’t liked at all and couldn’t care less. We’ll call them aniseed. In conversations between teacher and pupil, avoided wherever possible, both parties tend to screw up their face as if they find the practice distasteful. Yet – perhaps because pupils know exactly where they stand, and it’s generally not very high in the pecking order – aniseed teachers get results that most of us would die for.

Then there’s vanilla. These teachers are just, so… nice. They go out of their way to cater for every child and maintain a rictus smile even when an ungrateful class member throws their efforts back in their face. They can’t be offended and are themselves gloriously inoffensive. Wherein lies their fatal flaw in our teacher taste test: everybody likes them but nobody loves them, they lack the requisite zing or zest to be anybody’s favourite.

Which brings us to Marmite. Loved and hated in equal measure, a forthright passion for their subject has the effect of dividing opinion. Those who share their appetite for physics/literature/art and design will lap up every lesson and willingly go back for more. However, they don’t suffer gladly the philistines who fail to get it and are not prepared to dilute their teaching in order to make it more palatable.

Marmite teachers might contend that they’d win Michelin stars, while the vanilla teachers would probably fare better on TripAdvisor. Taste is subjective. Though our teacher faces are an act, don’t try to be something you’re not in order to win over pupils; artificial preservatives are generally not healthy. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to add new ingredients that might spice things up; apparently, something has to be tried several times before anyone can decide if they truly like it or not. And if there are any Heston Blumenthals out there who miraculously succeed in concocting a Marmite, aniseed and vanilla cookie that is universally loved, please share the recipe!

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