This week the TES in the UK started a Twitter thread asking people to respond to #WhyITeach. I’m sure that my response ‘to ignite the hope and belief in every person that they are of immense worth, and to help them show it’ was one many tweets from across the world.
I’m not sure that I trained as a teacher because I held such lofty ideals. I enjoyed my subjects of History and English and I was inspired by a couple of fantastic teachers who shaped my own learning (strangely enough my teachers of – yes, you guessed it, History and English). I had fun during my post-grad year of teacher training, creating resources and tasks that would engender a love of learning and ignite interest in the past. After 25 years of teaching, I am still energized by finding the hook that will capture students and set them off on their own learning journey.
The first year of teaching was pretty tough going, as I’m sure it is for most graduate teachers; no practicum can really prepare you for the endless hours of preparation, marking, meetings and reports. However, something happened in that first year that sparked my career long belief that I could make a difference to the young people in my care. I had the ‘low ability’ class (terrible and inaccurate term) for GCSE History, boys and girls who were mostly disengaged and had little sense of self worth or confidence in their ability as learners. In one of my first lessons, a young lad stood on the table and threatened to throw a chair at me. My response was ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you; you’re better than that’ and, with heart in my mouth, I just waited. Thankfully, he got down and I carried on with the lesson. He wasn’t ejected from the lesson or marched off to the Principal’s office. Like many students I’ve taught over the years, he didn’t have any belief that he would succeed in History; he’d been turned off by a focus on content and very traditional methodologies, and it was easier to play up than struggle. I believed in that class, and with patience and a lot of time re-thinking how to engage my learners through role play, audio-visuals and plenty of positive feedback, they slowly began to believe in themselves. When the GCSE results came out, no one in the class achieved below a C grade and for some students, it was the highest of their grades. I was thrilled, but not more than they were!
I learned more from that class than they learned from me and I’m grateful to them. They taught me that effective teaching and learning was about knowing students and building relationships and self-belief. People first, always.