Simply the best……….subject to teach.

The first of a new batch of Art Deco inspired mirrors

The first of a new batch of Art Deco inspired mirrors

Well it has been an interesting few weeks; the pre Christmas slog followed by the all too brief  holiday and then back to a new term which already seems frighteningly short given the amount of work that we have to cram into the time.  Last but not least, snow!  For most of you that will seem like an anti climax but living and working in the western tip of the UK makes snow a rare and unexpected event.  Large parts of the country are shivering under inches of the stuff, schools closed and transport grinding to a halt. ( Stand by for the usual, “They get this sort of thing all the time in Norway and it doesn’t stop them.”)   We managed about an inch here and there which wasn’t enough to stop anyone getting to school, a fact which may account for the somewhat jaded atmosphere in my classes today.  At least I hope that was the cause……….

A colleague of mine regularly tells me that we are fortunate to be teaching Design Technology as it is the best subject of all from a teachers point of view.  Her theory is that the subject appeals to children which makes them interested in what they are doing, the interest removes many of the dreaded behaviour issues and so we have an easy time.  I have tried arguing with this, pointing out that her classes do outstanding work of very high quality, that they certainly would not be doing it if it wasn’t for her outstanding teaching and many other things, all of which are true.  Regular readers may have picked up the fact that our catchment area contains a relatively high number of people who are engaged in design based creative industries of one sort or another as well as a manufacturing and construction base and a significant food sector.  All this provides a validation of what we do as a team and as a school which certainly helps to develop a productive climate in the department.

But of course it is not that simple.  Other schools in similar areas do not have the degree of engagement from parents and pupils that we have.  So what are the key elements in our situation?  I will try to tease some of them out but the first thing I  would say is that what works for us only works for us, this is not a universal suggestion and I think that each school should work out its own direction.  This of course assumes that we understand that the curriculum can be delivered in a wide variety of ways.  You and I might be teaching the same exam syllabus but we surely need to be doing it in different ways.  For us in our situation we made the decision to move in a design based direction; we do not have the heavy industry that would encourage us to offer engineering for example.  That is not to say that we don’t support the STEM agenda or that we don’t encourage pupils to consider going on to engineering at a variety of levels, we do.  It simply means that we focus our efforts on what we can deliver really well given the resources and the staff that we have and that has a direct connection with the local community.

Of course the vision that each school develops will influence how you recruit and appoint staff to work in the team and how those staff are developed.  Finding the right staff is no mean feat and if you are building a team, l or have a responsibility for appointing staff then you need to be clear about the vision you have for the subject and the sort of person who will fit. Equally if you are applying for a job be clear about what you think about the subject and check to see if the team is going in that direction.   I picked up a tip some time ago from a colleague, (Kevin, if you are reading this, thank you!)  who always asked candidates who their favorite designer was and why.  You would be surprised at some of the answers I have had to that question.  Of course a teacher might be quite outstanding in many ways but if they don’y have an answer to that question then they probably won’t fit in our team, or I might need to think about how we can develop their skills if they really seem to fit in other ways.

My second thought would that you need to ensure that you are offering a comprehensive Design Technology curriculum.  As a school we expect every pupil to take a GCSE course in one or other of the Design Technology subjects.  That means that we have to provide an appropriate and challenging curriculum for all our pupils.  I sometimes hear teachers justifying really old hat project work on the basis that it is teaching important skills.  Really?  Important for whom?  I suspect that the answer is that they matter to the teacher because that is the only skill set they have and are comfortable with.  Please don’t misunderstand me, an important part of my self identity is that I am a craftsman.  I am very proud of some of my pupils who have gone on to be even better at it than I am but I also recognise that they are few and far between.  What does my subject offer that really matters to all?  Answer that question and you will be well on the way to determining your direction of travel.

I do agree with my colleague; the one who thinks were are teaching the best subject.  I don’t think that it is the best because it is the easiest, because pupils have more fun in our lessons than in others, or even because we allow our pupils to work in a wide variety of ways.  I think it is the best because………..but I will save that for another post.

2 Responses to “Simply the best……….subject to teach.”
  1. lucy says:

    Ha ha, an interesting read. I have finally had time to look at your blog. 🙂 I’m actually procrastinating over reports, and this has occupied me for a while 🙂 We do teach the best subject ever! Certainly not because it is easy! It has challenge, its new, it’s up to date (well it should be), it’s exciting, its creative 🙂 I wish I could make my SLT team try teaching it… different to their subjects. I liked this post, it made me reflect more on my new role and the direction we will take! Lets hope we get it right and the threat of the current draft programme of study does not survive in its current state!

    • Hi Lucy, glad you enjoyed it. Like you I hope we will either have a curriculum that allows us the flexibility to teach what we know to be good or better programmes of study. Hope the reports have gone well.

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