There are two bits of experience that I think every teacher should have or experience. One is to go on supply and the other is to teach in a prison. My reasons for this are very simple. First by going on supply you can get an idea of what it is like to be treated badly or treated well and see what it is that makes the difference. You can also get kids to ‘talk off the record’. Prison or a YOI is even more illuminating because these are often the people whom our education system has failed. I have done both.
Doing supply is great. Firstly if you can teach something like R.E. then you really get the measure of the school. So often shunted off to the margins of the school both physically and academically you can have some really interesting conversations with the students. They would frequently tell me that they thought R.E. was boring to which I would then ask what it would be like if it was exciting. As the ideas poured out I would write them all down and then ‘fess up’ at the end what my day job was and to thank them for giving me all the material for my next course on how to make R.E. relevant and interesting. Some of the sharper ones would ask for commission!
As for prison or YOI the interesting question here was to ask about their schooling. Most of the inmates I worked with hadn’t been to school beyond the age of 14. When I asked them why (expecting some quite serious reasons) the main answer was ‘couldn’t see the point’.
So it all seems to go back to the notion of relevance and more particularly relevance to their lives. On this point some people then think that we should provide a cafeteria style education in which you pick and choose just the bits you like and leave out what you don’t like.
I am a Geography teacher and by my own admission I am obsessed with the subject. I love it. To me it makes sense of the world and has given me numerous entrees into all sorts of aspects of life. When students of mine would tell me that they found something boring whether it be coasts or rivers I would always say ‘No, it’s really exciting I just haven’t found of way of teaching it to you yet that gets that across, what do you recommend?’.
I have maintained in a number of places that I went into teaching to be an inspiration. I measure that by levels of student engagement at a number of levels. One of which may be the results they achieve. I have also shared that I am a keen runner. I run because I love the physical sensation of running. I run races and I am interested in my times but it is not the principal reason that I run.
I worry that in this world of big data that my approach is rather outmoded in favour of focusing purely on the achievement which to my mind would stop me from running or teaching or make me so nervous about my performance that I would cease to want to do it. What is the answer?
Balance? Support? Coaching? Fresh idea of achievement?