Teaching as learning………..why my job is never boring!

Graphic Products on display at my school.

Graphic Products on display at my school.

Well it is the end of another Monday and a chance conversation with the gentleman behind the counter in my local builder’s merchant got me thinking, “I hate Mondays.”  Of course I know what he mean;, the weekend, which we tend to think of as our time, is over and the week stretches out ahead of you with all the things that you need to get done and no certainty that you will manage to fit them all in.  I made some remark and he countered, please forgive the pun, by adding that as he got older the weeks seem to fly by quicker and quicker.  I think we can all relate to that one and if you are reading this in your twenties, just you wait!  The conversation did cause me to think again that actually I love my job.  I sometimes tell my classes how lucky I am, saying something like, “Not only do I get to work with you guys, they pay me as well”  Most of the time they look at me as if I have had a touch too much sun, no chance this year, until finally one or two of them come to understand that I really do mean it.

I have written before about how important the atmosphere that you create as a teacher is to the learning in your classes, how often have I stopped a pupil at the door to remind them that they are coming into my class now and that we have a secure and relaxed working atmosphere where they will be able to get better at what they are doing and it will be a friendly environment.  How often do you spot a pupil coming and know that they are in the wrong frame of mind, perhaps they are feeling the injustice of life, maybe they didn’t get enough sleep last night or they are a bit under the weather.  A friendly or firm or just sympathetic enquiry can change the dynamic and smooth the way for learning.  I can recall vividly watching one of my mentors demonstrate this skill though at the time I didn’t understand the significance of what he accomplished.  Four of my own children and many, many classes later I am beginning to get a handle on it.

And that is why I never get bored with my job.  Every year there are new things to learn about how children work and how I and my colleagues can intervene for their good.   What we know about how our brains work is an ever expanding area of work, sometimes when I read about something in this field I grasp why something I have been doing does or does not work and sometimes a whole new area for development opens up in front of me.  In my subject field things are changing constantly and keeping on top of new subject knowledge is also a delight but for me the more interesting side of this is working out how and why we should be teaching this new bit of content.

Sometimes just keeping your head above water with new curriculum developments, revised exam schemes and the latest initiative seems like a major achievement.   And sometimes you read something that just does you good.  So let me reccomend this article by Paul Tough to you to you,  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&sq=failure&st=cse&scp=1  I am sorry, I have not quite figured out how to make the link neat and tidy yet but trust me, the article is worth it and my thanks to fellow blogger  http://siobhancurious.wordpress.com/ for bringing it to my attention.  The fundamental of the work is that success in life is not simply the result of academic knowledge or exam success but of the personal qualities that are going to enable you to function as an independent human being.  Some work on how these qualities operate and how they can be used to stimulate the children in our care has brought exciting results.

If you are a UK reader you might be aware that two elements of our curriculum are directed towards this, the personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS) coupled with the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL, bit of a gift, that one.)  What worries me is that these are complex issues that we are just starting to explore and some schools will be tempted to implement them in the usual way, a training day and a tick list.  You would think that as education professionals we might find it in our hearts to do things a bit better than that.  For example, just because I have read Paul Tough’s article will my classroom practice change tomorrow?  You might guess that I am going to try out a few ideas and you might also guess that by the end of the week I will have reverted to type and so will my teaching.  What I need to do is read the article a few more times, perhaps follow up on some of the links and most of all find/make some time to think through how this should impact on my teaching.  So when did you have a training day followed by some time to reflect?

I have found it powerful to explain to some of my pupils why they feel like behaving in certain ways, to reassure them that it is alright to feel that way and explain why they will see things differently when they mature.  I do need to remind myself that they are kids, they have all that growing up to do alongside instantly loving my subject, soaking up every drop of my wisdom and becoming star designers.  The love;y thing about Tough’s article is that it deals with the issue of what makes a great person.  As a parent I had some pretty clear ideas of what I wanted for my children and more than any qualification the things I wanted most were these qualities.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to all our children?


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