Shake the Dust. Is teaching about repetition or creativity? In my own school there is a real divide. Some have decided that they know what to teach and how to teach it; they have a set repertoire of techniques and they are now happy to stick with them. In my subject, English, this might manifest itself in a teacher who has taught the same GCSE novel for twenty years in exactly the same way, using the same notes, activities, essay titles and, what’s worse, trotting out the same opinions they had back at the start. This is not a dig at my older colleagues, some of whom are the most reflective, innovative and inspirational people I have ever met. Rather, this is about the people who are happy to settle and are scared of popping their head back out into the ever evolving world of education. As an aspiring AST, I regularly bring new ideas to department meetings and to colleagues on a more informal basis, but often hear the old mantra, “yes, I’m sure it works in your lessons, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, or “not really my style…”
The problem with this attitude is that it promotes what is, for me, one of the most intensely frustrating ideas about education in this country; that teaching is just getting what is in the teacher’s head into the student’s head; a simple transfer of stuff from us to them. I have had countless debates with friends in other professions who think, possibly as a result of their own experiences in education, that teachers just have to know facts and that each year is pretty much like the last because you can just trot out the same stuff again for a new year group. I know that most people reading educational blogs will be of my opinion, that our noble profession is fundamentally a creative subject and that knowing stuff does NOT make you a good teacher. The difference between seeing teaching as information transfer and seeing it as creative, is that the former looks back or, at best, stays still, and the latter looks forward. Creative teaching does not just aim to instruct students in the things they should know, but actively facilitates the growth and development of the next generation, pushing forward social change through the children who will grow up to implement and enjoy it.
The biggest change I would like to see in my lifetime is twofold. First, that society at large should begin to see education as something which creates change, rather than as an exercise in trawling back over stale ideas. Second, that all teachers become people who constantly challenge themselves to change what they are doing; shake the dust.
One way in which a teacher might do this is, of course, to embrace the incredibly wonderful world of Twitter. See @learningspy’s recent blog from this blogsync where he makes an incredibly strong, if rather emotional (!) case for all of us to become Tweachers (My Homage to Twitter). I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly; Twitter is the way forward for anyone who wants to shake things up and be an innovator.
Possibly because I have a constant need to be busy, I have always operated by actively searching for thing which make me feel uncomfortable. Since the introduction of the new AQA English specification in the last couple of years, I have chosen to teach ‘Mister Pip’ and ‘Purple Hibiscus’ instead of the old favourite ‘Of Mice and Men’ and have found that the students relish the incredibly current, hard hitting nature of these texts, and also that my teaching of them has been fresh and thoroughly enjoyable. I have been forced to create and forge new paths through this uncharted territory, and I know that my classes were with me every step of the way. This isn’t practical for every teacher or every class, but it’s an example of how trying new things and putting yourself out on a limb can be successful. Don’t get me wrong, my cavalier attitude to experimenting in my lessons has sometimes led to the odd mistake or sticky situation, but I would rather try something out than be scared of never playing out a wacky new brainwave of my own (or of the kids for that matter; they come up with some cracking ideas for lessons!).
I am aware that calling for more creativity and experimentation in a forum like this is like preaching to the converted. However, I think it’s worth saying. I also think that it’s worth saying again, but by this guy, and with far more eloquence, style and effortless cool than I could ever muster…
To read the rest of the blogs on the theme “Universal Panacea” see this blogsync