You have been to school, so you probably think you know what makes a good teacher (and a bad one) and how to run a good school (and a bad one) this ‘ pontificating ‘ especially if you are also a politician can frustrate teachers themselves. I guarantee though, one space you didn’t know so much about was ……the staffroom! On teaching practice genuinely, I was warned not to sit in Mr X chair! However in my first post staff were generous and kind, they took an interest in how I was doing and they shared and encouraged me (or perhaps they lied) “oh Yes Chris is awful in my lessons too”. This concern was a wonderful gift in my early years in Witney. I often tried to imagine those colleagues, who were sharing with me over coffee, what they were in the classroom. In my naivety I thought everyone had to be young, energetic, passionate etc. I recall a lovely colleague I often helped out of the chair – over the age of retirement slow, measured but still going. We don’t treat older teachers as sources of wisdom, they often treat younger staff very generously.
In my early years there were no MATS, not even many INSET days ( preBaker). Toward the end of my first year I had missed opportunity to analyse and think about what I was doing – not a surprise , my PGCE saw about 50% timetable and I was now over 75%. My reflections were brief as the phots show.
I had a very difficult third year class, Y9 – we would have called them low ability. Whatever I did, interesting practicals or care with language, shout or stay very calm, it did not win them over. Discipline was OK actually but they just didn’t seem to learn. Tests often showed deterioration not progress. So one day I asked them who was the favourite teacher and who helped them learn best. Imagine my suppose when with one voice they gave the name of the elderly colleague, an English teacher. I asked her if I could observe her and she welcomed me with open arms.
The class arrived and entered her beautiful room orderly cheerful and keen, they sat down no trouble, they automatically got books and notes out. I was baffled, I mean this was English, activity was limited. Miss S set off by telling them it was spelling test day. Not a murmur, just found their spelling jotters. To honour me they had scientific terms….. out came the likes of aluminium, separate, science etc. they swopped papers, and Miss went through the correct spellings. BUT she didn’t take down the marks. I thought nothing of it. the lesson moved on to study some poetry – even I found it a challenge but they listened, they concentrated, often half the class had hands up at every question. they worked in silence, they asked some clever questions. Towards the end she said it was spelling rerun time and she reran the spelling test, everyone did better (of course). She took the marks down for that test. The bell went, they slowly packed away, no rush to leave, no wild comments, many a ‘thank you’.
As I sat there, a light went on, Miss S had shown them in black and white terms that this class which found learning so challenging, well she had proved they could learn. From initial spelling scores of 2 or 3 correct they finished with 8 or 9 and that made them feel good, made them want more, made them adore Miss S and enabled her to teach them really well because they knew they could really learn.
Teachers finds clever creative, innovative ways to motivate pupils and classes but the best and the lesson I learnt that day is we always have to show, however hard the content is (and listen Chemistry has plenty) with thought and planning, with magic and mystery it is possible to convince pupils they really can learn. This is the hidden challenge and hidden joy of the craft of a classroom. I was indebted to this wise (old) colleague forever.