There will be no podcast today as a mark of respect for Robin’s and Thomas’ dear friend The Reverend Tim Hardingham who was tragically killed whilst riding his bike with his family on Sunday 25th October. Tim was a guest in episode 21 of our first season.
Below are Thomas’s and Robin’s personal memories of Tim who was a friend and mentor to us both.
Tim was unique. A one off. A gentle man. A gentleman. I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time. I’m tall but he towered over me in his leather jacket and dog collar. I looked up to him then and never really stopped. There was no part of physics teaching where he could not provide support based on experience. I used to ask him questions that had bothered me for years and he would sit with me and talk me through it with quiet amusement. Amusement at the beauty of physics, amusement at the joy of talking about it.
Tim was outwardly chaotic at times and could be infuriating to be partnered with. Whilst you knew his side would be taught magnificently (I say “taught” but Tim just seemed to effortlessly magic the knowledge in to the students’ heads), my cheeky head of Physics (Robin) would gleefully tell me that I was responsible for prising the coursework out of Tim’s “filing system”. Tim’s assertion that he never lost a piece of work in his holistic method of stacking papers was an example of his solid belief that God moved in mysterious ways.
Tim was such a giving person that for a caring man of deep religious conviction, becoming ordained was inevitable. I think it just allowed him to do even more good. He was a quiet example of his faith and never thrust it at you. He knew I was atheist and would always reassure me that his assemblies were not overtly Christian; his Infernal Consumption Engine assembly was a masterpiece that only he could deliver and keep 300 fourteen year olds in rapt attention.
He was a delightful one-off and it would tickle him that I feel blessed to have known him.
It might seem a contradiction, to be a practicing vicar and a physics teacher, but once you met Tim Hardingham, somehow the puzzle became clear. Tim was pin-sharp, but grounded; fascinated with the physical world, yet deeply concerned for everyone around him. Even those who met him briefly were struck by this extraordinary man whose twinkling eyes and ready smile belied an uncompromising educator and intellect.
I first met Tim when I started as an ‘in-school’ trainee in 2008; he was a veteran, spoken about with awe by his science colleagues. We worked out that he qualified to teach the year after I was born (1970), and he had honed his skills over the 38 years since. Watching him teach I was in awe; would I ever be that skilful in the classroom? The answer 12 years on, a resounding “No!”
Tim’s teaching style was out of vogue at the time. He believed that physics was best understood by encouraging analysis and thought, and he would challenge students and take them outside their comfort zone. His method was more probing questions and challenge than 6-page lesson plans and learning objectives, so Tim’s methods were often out of step with the prevailing educational trends. Where superficial judgements on his teaching infuriated me, Tim was gracious. Typically, he was more concerned that others, less secure in their practice, were being undermined by adherence to ill-conceived ideology and it saddened him. Tim always put others before himself, and the only times I ever saw him angry and upset were when colleagues were treated shoddily.
Tim taught me valuable lessons by the score, but the ability to be gracious under fire whilst quietly following your convictions, is one of his skills that I will strive for and never come close to matching.
Time spent with Tim was always a blessing. He was generous with that time, even though his schedule was frantic, and when Thomas and I collared him to take part in an early episode of the Podcast he was enthusiastic supportive and – of course – fascinating. If I started to document all that Tim taught me about physics, about teaching and dare I say, about integrity, this post would run to volumes, and he would be uncomfortable with that.
So how to pay tribute to this wonderful man in a way that he would be happy with? I hope Tim would be happy that, when I have those days (you know those days) when it just seems… hard, my habit is still to ask, “What would Tim do?” When I think of how best to approach teaching a topic, I imagine Tim introducing it, and invariably inspiration follows. When I map the years ahead of me in my career and wonder how to balance the teaching I love with the increasing tangential demands, it will be Tim’s example that I follow. I cherish that in one of the last conversations I had with him, I was able to acknowledge this and tell him that I was learning to be “a bit more Tim”.
I think we could all do with being “a bit more Tim”.