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Death, taxes, and the cyclical nature of history

The old saying goes that the only two things certain in life are death and taxes.

I however disagree. I believe there is a third: anti-climaxes.

As a history tutor, dates are a very important part of my work. This year’s most important date was June 2nd. Why? Many events throughout history have happened on June 2nd (if you’re going by the Gregorian calendar), including but not limited to: the Sack of Rome in 455, Bridget Bishop became the first person to stand trial in the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, Guglielmo Marconi applied for a patent for his newest invention, the radio, in 1896, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act into law in 1924, the referendum in Italy saw the creation of the Italian Republic in 1946, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and the founding of the German terrorist group, Movement 2 June in 1967. However, in 2014 the significance of June 2nd was that it was the date of the last A2 history exam, in effect, marking the end of the working season for me.

You’d expect this to be a jubilant time for me. This final exam marked the end of a near two-month period since the start of the Easter Holidays of almost solid, non-stop teaching. Here was a chance to finally have a day off (and have a lie in!). Yet June 2nd was, as has been the case with the final history exam of each year I have tutored, an anticlimactic experience. For it marks a sad end to the year. With the exams over, my students no longer have a need for me. The last 2 months have been a hectic combination of requests ranging from “can we shift this lesson to then?” or “how do I answer this?” or “can you mark that for me with feedback?”.

However, like a runner who’s been pounding a treadmill at some ridiculous speed, the final exam is the equivalent of having someone trigger the emergency stop, resulting in coming to a sudden unexpected halt. The difference is of course that I know this halt is coming; I’ve known the exam timetable since January, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Yet despite that, nothing can quite prepare you for the sudden end of the season. Although in some ways it is a very rewarding time because some of the students I have been working with for years finally get to say “the exam went great and I knew exactly what to do,” the fact is that you are no longer needed and those regular weekly sessions abruptly stop. As such the final exam marks a very anticlimactic (and in some ways premature) end to the academic year.

However that feeling never lasts for long…

For while I’m not a big fan of the theory of the cyclical nature of history, there’s one thing I know for sure. As I write students are either making their GCSE option choices, preparing for their final school year, embracing the moving up to Sixth Form, or making UCAS choices dependent on those ever tightening entry grades. And as they make those choices the playing field is ever changing, with new A-level courses having been drafted and politicians and academics (that have never taught a specification in their lives!) deciding what students should and shouldn’t need to know. Those last points are discussions for another time; for now, with all that in mind, one thing is for sure. While there may well be anti-climaxes in life, there’s a fourth thing that is certain as well…

… things rarely stay quiet for long!

William Tyson-Banks

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