Firstly let me make it clear that, rather than reading my version, you’d be better turning to
- Chapter 2 in Daisy Christodoulou’s “Seven myths about education“
- The Michaela school’s “Battle hymn of the tiger teachers…” (especially the chapter by Jess Lund on “No nonsense no burn out)
- Also Ben Newark’s excellent post on his blog about gimmicks in teaching”…”.
- Finally whilst writing this Tom Bennett goes and publishes this on telling pupils or letting them work it out
Looking back maybe it was obvious. I used to say I only got into teaching because I wasn’t brave enough to try being a stand up comic. I always like to lay out my classroom with space at the front for me to pace, to strut and to perform. I was never so good at standing off to one side. So, whereas I wouldn’t like to call myself a sage, I know I love to be on the stage. And I know I could teach children and explain to them things they didn’t already know in a way that (I hope) was often relevant and always done with enthusiasm for my subject.
Yet when I joined twitter I got dazzled by the lights. I couldn’t stop clicking on links written by teachers who had just implemented a newly developed idea that was flipping excellent. Innovators flying solo and above the rest of us with embellishments and gizmos to take the drab out of learning and engage those oh so disinterested pupils. Discussion and decision-making games to make children that distracted they were tricked into learning. At the same time for various reasons, some that are documented on this blog and some not yet, I began to lose belief in my own ability to teach effectively. This double slap combination left me grasping at every suggestion I read. Surely the bold world of twitter, blogs and the world wide web could save me and my sagging, flailing career.
But all these ideas led to was a distant ideal I could never replicate in my classroom and an unshakable feeling I was failing. The harder I worked at mimicking these hero teachers the worse I felt about my job. After all, if I was putting all that effort in and still my pupils weren’t really learning or often even that interested, I must surely be a poor teacher. I was working harder and harder, introducing new formats and plans every week for little if any gain. I was drowning under technique and forgetting my subject.
I can’t say there was some road to Damascus moment that saved me. I had already slowly realised how much easier it was to rely on myself as the expert and not some mysterious ever-mutating teaching strategy before I found the two books listed above. But when I read Daisy Christodoulou defending and promoting direct instruction and Jess Lund write about “no nonsense, no burn out” it wasn’t just me and a few others at my own school. What we were thinking, others were thinking and championing. Such a relief!
And so now I am confident enough again to tell my pupils stuff, to explain things to them, to introduce them to facts, to talk to all of them – from the front. I still rely on other resources too of course: youtube is my good friend and so is the text book (radical, eh?) Then I set them some work to support that learning and check to ensure they have understood it. I make sure these first pieces come with support so that they can gain confidence and then finally once they have that knowledge secured, I introduce some more challenging decision-making tasks. Maybe then, from time to time, I might plan in a game or a gimmick as well:)