Learning For its Own Sake

Sarah Tullis | Wycombe Abbey

I have never forgotten the horror I felt on the last day of my first year of teaching at Wycombe Abbey. All around me, end-of-term summer joy prevailed amongst staff and students, but I sat in Mark Reading feeling pit-of-the-stomach dismay. Needless to say, this was not at the thought of how to fill a long summer holiday without school: the submission deadline for my D.Phil was in September.

When I accepted the job at Wycombe Abbey, I had – rashly – thought that it would be easy enough to start my teaching career as a Newly Qualified Teacher and to complete my doctorate at the same time. In reality, the year had involved a lot of work for school, as I learned about teaching and new periods of History, but not enough of the doctorate. I knew that the summer holiday would require constant hard work (and a degree of panic) in order to submit my 100,000-word thesis.

The importance of perseverance and positivity

When asked to write on the theme of perseverance, I remembered exactly how I felt on that day in Big School. Of course, you begin a doctorate (hopefully) feeling fascinated by a subject and wishing to research it in real depth in and for itself. It is impossible, though, to feel like that all the time, especially when grinding through the intricacies of a topic – in my case medieval law. I defy anybody always to be fascinated by complex legalities and by manuscripts and certainly not with a deadline looming.

In the end, I managed – more or less – to stay calm and to do all of the things which I now advise girls to do, such as breaking down seemingly impossible tasks into bite-size chunks to be ticked off a still-interminable list. I tried not just to be caught up in the processes, such as writing, footnoting and finding references, but to leave myself space to think and to hold on to why I had been interested in the topic in the first place. Most importantly, I strove to stay cheerful and not to be too resentful of others enjoying lovely summer holidays despite a constant stream of social media pictures of beaches.

Overcoming the challenges of remote learning

Remote learning has been a big challenge for students and staff this term, made tougher for some because of IT or time-zone issues. I have been hugely impressed, though, by the positive way in which everyone has been giving it their best and trying to enjoy the process. It is fitting that we have been running sessions, especially for the UV and UVI, on subjects outside the curriculum in which teachers are independently interested. My medieval legal history may even be reincarnated for a lesson. Girls in all years are reading and thinking about new areas, entering essay competitions, learning new languages and much more. I hope that they are getting a real taste of what learning for its own sake looks like and I hope that they will carry that approach with them throughout their lives.


Dr Sarah Tullis
Head of History, Government and Politics