There is no question that teaching is incredibly demanding, exhausting and at times, demoralising. However, this blog is not about wellbeing. It is deliberately written to celebrate all-things teaching as the dark evenings draw in and the long-winter season kicks off in schools. I’ve written this blog to encourage readers to remain positive about teaching.
The 5 Wonders of Teaching:
The 5 wonders of teaching are all about what we must love as teachers and what we must hold close to our professional hearts.
To coin, the opening comments from headteacher @JohnTomsett and his blog, I have been teaching for 22 years, a classroom teacher for 17 years, a senior teacher for 7 years and, at the age of 40, this much I know about The 5 Wonders of Teaching.
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First and foremost for all teachers, the first wonder of teaching must be an intrinsic desire to enjoy working with children. We all have an aspiration to work with young people and make a difference to each and every one. Thirty children in any classroom, make any learning environment full of complicated individuals that need dedicated care and attention, every single day. As I have blogged before, the most striking teachers break down barriers, build relationships with all of their students; even the hardest to reach.
Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response; “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” And that if we do not like students, they must never, ever know it.
Classrooms are a fascinating place in which to work. They are detailed, delicate and delightful; full of character, emotion, sound and sometimes even smell! Love your students. Every single one of them, and know this; there is no such thing as a bad person, only an affected person. We come into teaching knowing that we can make a difference to the lives of all students. There will be challenges. There will be times when the toughest students make teaching impossible, but know that it doesn’t last forever.
We can’t do it all, and we will need help; but what we can do, is that we must love every child.
2. Subject Specialism:
Following the first wonder of teaching, the second wonder of teaching is closely followed with a true love of your subject. Without this, any teacher will be exposed in the classroom as soon as students muster the evidence to challenge a non-specialist! All teachers must be an expert in their field and at the forefront of good subject and curriculum knowledge. If a teacher cannot demonstrate secure knowledge, students will soon have you rustled! To remain at the pinnacle of your subject and to ensure that high-quality teaching remains within your own four walls, a teacher must foster and maintain interest in their subject.
Do not stagnate. Learn, read, engage and share.
For me, this is easy to achieve and I hope the reader will agree with me. We teach because we enjoy working with children. We teach because we love imparting knowledge of our subject and encouraging learners to engage with our own subject-field and discover their own love of learning. This cannot be achieved in one or two years of teaching. It takes times to develop your expertise and refine your knowledge as the curriculum and needs of the students evolve. Teaching your subject is always interesting, because knowledge never sits still. As students learn, we must continue to learn too.
There is nothing more I enjoy, than dispelling misunderstandings about my subject, including my own as I refine my knowledge from teaching key stage three students up to working at masters degree level. This is no easy feat to achieve daily within your own classroom and in your own personal professional development. Knowledge takes time to grow and something all teachers can address as they go on to further study as a learner themselves. We must stay abreast of developments in our subject and wider curriculum areas, to promote the value of scholarships, whatever the teacher’s specialist subject. Read. Read regularly.
We must also refrain from becoming too precious about our own subject areas and do all we can to support learning as a whole and the wider work of our colleagues. It’s incredible the subject knowledge you can develop from observing colleagues in other areas. Working in schools gives teachers the opportunity to learn on a daily basis! Use these opportunities to your advantage.
No matter how tough it gets in the classroom, the third wonder of teaching is not a one-off experience that can be evaluated or measured in a single lesson; a scheme of work and dare I say, a single year. As I spoke to my NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) last week, I spoke to them about the 5-year itch and the 40% attrition rate for qualified teachers in England and Wales. I spoke to them about why teaching was a lifetime’s craft and that they should do all that they can to develop their repertoire throughout the early years of their career. Of course, this is all subjective and dependent of the support they receive in school and the individual circumstances that befall each of them.
In my training session, I set about challenging them to understand, that to become consistently Good, however we define this, cannot be achieved in one single year. Instead, I asked them “how do we ensure teachers can be consistently Good … and grow to love teaching so that they can stay in the classroom longer than 5 years.
Following a discussion, I showed them a detailed version of this video clip of myself in the classroom (blog context here in full) and asked them all to evaluate what they saw and what they thought may be happening day-in-day-out over a longer period of time. It was a very powerful moment to hear their feedback and know that the future of teaching and learning, and how we assess the quality of teaching and learning is in our own hands.
Given the fact that lesson gradings have been eradicated from the Ofsted framework, we are now in control to truly develop teachers and teaching and learning. It is only a matter of time before all teachers will be inviting each other into classrooms for developmental purposes only.
4. Wider School Contributions:
The fourth wonder of teaching is being involved in all aspects of school life. All teachers who enjoy teaching and the schools in which the work, take on their wider professional responsibilities with devotion and freedom. When I first wrote in The Guardian about What Makes an Outstanding School? (without Ofsted definitions), I recalled why I enjoyed one school compared to the other. In essence, in two of the three schools I analysed, I was making a positive contribution to the wider life and ethos of the school using a simple calculation that I was participating outside of my department and beyond the nature of my role, in more schools than others. Why? Well, on many occasions, I was developing effective professional relationships with colleagues, drawing on advice and specialist support and in other circumstances, I was merely taking part in a staff social or an evening event at school. For example, the Christmas concert.
Finally, the fifth wonder of teaching is the need for teachers to be engage with their own CPD, in and out of the classroom. Despite the poor reputation that whole-school CPD has had over the past decade, with the introduction of social-media, and more and more evidence that teachers are now doing it for themselves, there is now a real grassroots revolution taking place across the country with TeachMeets after working hours and even at the weekends!
Teachers are, more and more connecting together online, standing up for what they believe in. The results of this have mainly been seen in roundtable discussions, holding Ofsted to account and in sharing best practice online via resources. No longer are we working in silos.
Just like you, I’ve had many ups and downs in and out of the classroom. I’ve considered leaving teaching, albeit staying in education, moving into all-sorts of things such as consultancy, journalism and even forming a company. However, I’m still at it, working on the front-line (not as much as I used to be), working more closely with teachers.
Teaching is a lifetime vocation, and although I have been teaching for 22 years, a classroom teacher for 17 years, a senior teacher for 7 years and, at the age of 40, this much I know about The Seven Wonders of Teaching; one thing I do know, is that I am only just seeing out the summer-years of my career and beginning to embed what I have learnt so far.
In the years to come, I hope that I can display my true colours throughout the autumn-years of my career, as I grow further to LoveTeaching even more and more.
How about you? What are your 5 wonders of teaching?