I love teachers – we work so hard, we care so much – but we moan constantly. We moan about lesson planning and preparation. We moan about ‘bad lessons’ and follow-up consequences. We moan about marking and assessment data capture. We moan about parents meetings and open evenings. We moan about not doing enough trips and about having to complete risk assessments when we do. We moan about the government, and Ofsted. Admittedly, it’s hard to argue with the last one.
Sadly, one of the main causes of complaint for teachers, are the children we teach – their attitude; their behaviour; their work, or lack of it; their complete lack of enthusiasm despite our incredible planning; their interactions with classmates; their lack of common sense; their foul language; their need for attention; their disrespect for those who clearly should be respected.
I’m no better. Certain students drive me crazy.
But as with our other complaints, the downside here is that we focus on the ‘problem’ rather than the solution. What can start out as a bit of ‘letting off steam’ (which we all need sometimes) often just leaves you feeling useless and hopeless, with no finish line in sight.
At the end of the day, our job title says ‘teacher.’ That’s what we do. We teach.
The kids aren’t paid to come to school. It’s the law. They get no benefit from listening and learning and being all-round good people, other than us telling them that this is what they should be doing, because it’s ‘the right thing to do.’
If we want them to be better, we have to teach them how, and why. We need to make learning directly relevant to them; to give them something that they can really care about, not just because we told them they should.
Last year, as part of my skills-based learning with year 8, I had planned and held a class debate. Our topic was ‘Fire’ so I planned and resourced this huge debate which was based on the Greek myth of Prometheus – the question was: “Was Prometheus right to give fire to mankind?” One side argued yes, citing everything from Fireworks and cooked steaks to space ships and central heating. The other side talked about bombs, weapons and house fires. Overall, it was a good debate and everyone had worked at their skills of communicating effectively in front of a class.
This year, I changed things. We’d done lots of presentations at this point so a debate seemed like a great opportunity to add some passion to our rhetoric. I split the class into 6 teams with 3 debate themes. Group one debated, “Are violent, 18 certificate video games responsible for the rise in poor behaviour in schools?” Group two debated, “Are schools too soft on poor behaviour, leading to loss of learning for many?” And Group three debated, “Is our obsession with social media causing us to feel lonelier than ever?” As ‘GTA’ playing, ‘Facebook’ junkies whose lessons are regularly disturbed by the poorly behaved amongst them; these were all issues that really spoke to them. They didn’t have to try hard to actually care, because unbeknownst to them, they already did.
Today, we held our debates in class. And they were marvellous.
Whilst there were still nerves around the room, this being our first debate, the level of preparation that had gone into them was far greater than the year before, and the conviction in their voices; the way that despite nerves, they argued back and forth, really was something to see.
It was the kind of lesson that restores your faith in the profession, and children.
It wasn’t a total success – there was one boy still that seemed disengaged, and two girls that somehow escaped speaking in their debate. I’ll work on them before summer. And I’ll most likely change up the debates again next year.
Most teachers I’m sure would agree that resilience is probably one of the most, if not the most important life skill that our children need to have happy and successful lives. Yet, sometimes I think we forget to apply this to ourselves.
A teacher’s work is never done. Every child, class and cohort are different, as is every day and every lesson. We must keep up, if we want to keep them interested.
There’s a great quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
If we want our students to ‘come alive’ in lessons, we need to give them air that they can breathe, and something worth waking up for.