In praise of…Teaching!

March 1, 2019 2:15 pm
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Whilst writing the last few blogs I have tried to, and probably failed to convey the condition of modern teaching as I see it. That can often be somewhat doom-ridden with daily reports of crisis, recruitment deficits, and a general atmosphere of malaise. This is not helped by prophecies of the future coming from Silicon Valley where teachers will be mere overseers of an AI world where HAL keeps a beady eye on all of us “Dave’s” and makes sure we are following the correct framework. As a History teacher the similarity with an Orwellian future or a darker Stalinist past might be lost on Elon and the gang, but it always gives me an inward wry smile.

The last few posts from @thosewhocan have risen me from my melancholy to concentrate on the positive sides of the job and celebrate the times the job has been the best in the world.

Teaching by its very nature can be a solitary craft, at times almost gladiatorial and at its best an absolute pleasure to be in that room with those youngsters. However, there are times when you are no longer “just” a teacher and circumstances throw a situation your way where your colleagues are crucial to you and a child’s future and health. One such incident occurred on a school trip to the World War One battlefields. The trip was going swimmingly, the kids were attentive and respectful and the staff were gelling and enjoying themselves. It was a cold but bright day and as the coach pulled into the car park at Tyne Cot, I went through my well-worn speech about not running, being respectful etc. I was pleased to see that the track into the cemetery was now tarmacked and that the visitors centre would give the students a better focus. However, it was not to be. A Y9 girl, for no reason lost her footing and went over badly on her ankle and from this point the trip became a logistical headache that could only be solved by excellent staff co-operation. The School Secretary, Terri, who was fully first aid trained swung into action the girl was calmed down, the students were ushered away, and the “system” went into overdrive. If you have not led a school trip it is very difficult to understand the responsibility it carries especially when things go wrong. Firstly, contact the school log the incident, inform the team and delegate roles, make sure the parents are aware and can contact you and ensure that the trip can move forward. The hospital was contacted, and the ambulance was there within minutes, Terri took the casualty away and the day continued. My other colleagues were informed that the parents would like the girl to stay on the trip and that although she had a bad sprain and was on crutches, we agreed we could manage the risk. That team, including the students were so amazing over the next few days I will never forget it. The boy who was to lay the wreath at the Menin Gate stepped down so the injured girl could do it. Students moved out of their rooms so she could be on the ground floor, colleagues took turns in looking after her whilst we were out and the brilliant staff at Vimy Ridge treated her like a princess pushing her around in a wheelchair to as many of the sites as possible. The parents were so appreciative of the team’s effort and although there was a slightly disappointing H and S investigation where the school could find no-one to blame, I look back fondly on this trip on showing how teachers and the brilliant office staff pulled together to make sure an individual and a group had the best possible time regardless of their own wellbeing. Anyone, who thinks school trips are jollies for teachers be my guest to take one!

Classes never to forget
I once worked out I had taught 30,000 lessons which was sort of reassuring and worrying at the same time. It certainly was slightly bamboozling to a rather pompous DH who was doing an observation late in my career who had a lot of pointers for me to take on board. My silence “responses” to his hackneyed suggestions meant the feedback was thankfully short and sweet and I could get on with the job while he could well, do one. That is not to say that he wasn’t right I just was in the twilight of my career and knew what worked for me and classes and could take on board only incremental rather than radical change. The class I will never forget was a Y10 History GCSE class last thing on a Friday. The alarm bells will be ringing for most of you reading this, but this group of youngsters broke the mould in every way. They worked well, for 40 minutes but always grew restless before the end so I invented a couple of ways that I hoped would keep them engaged until the end. I told them a tale of how I had achieved a U grade in O Level Physics by packing my notebook with a head to head challenge with my mate Mike on stopping my super new digital watch stopwatch function nearest 10.00. This has run from 1982 to 1983 and we had both got good at it to the detriment of our science studies. This shaggy dog story was meant to be a warning against wasting your time but was taken up by the group that a 50-year-old has been could not possibly beat the youth. Google came up on the whiteboard a team of five was selected and each week their 9.84 was never enough to beat the old master coming in at 9.98 on average. This alternated with “Bin Challenge” where 3 members of the group had a rolled-up paper ball which was thrown from a designated spot and if it went in the bin, I bought sweets for the group next lesson. Occasionally, on both of these activities I lost and the delight that of winning was amazing to see. The upshot of these small sacrifices of class time was the most brilliant group of youngsters I ever taught, excellent relationships with not only them but their peers and the best examination results I ever got with a group.

My above ramblings hopefully illustrate, that whatever the current narrative that unlike a certain nameless lager teaching is…probably the best job in the world.