Being teacher…or not.

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Sometimes there is an aura and mystic about great teachers. Other teachers wonder about their secrets and would like to very much to be initiated into their secret master teacher circle. But there is nothing mystical or magical about great teachers, or anything esoteric that other teachers can’t tap into and embody themselves if they have the motivation and insight to turn their own minds away from our stereotypical and historic ideas about what a good teacher is like. We still live in an age where most people believe a good teacher has vast amounts of subject knowledge, can transfer this into children’s minds through saying it enough, and can keep children quiet and compliant.

Yet in reality this has never been the case, not for the likes of Dickens, nor for any of us who still remember those fabulous teachers from our own schooling who inspired us to learn. The mystery of great teaching is as simple as this: you as the teacher must think like your pupils. You must engage with them, understand what it feels like to be them and tune into them as they are there before you, in their own little worlds.

It is the very best teachers who get right inside their children’s heads and imagine what it is like ‘begin taught by me.’ Poor teachers are distant from their learners in many ways, but most of all in seeing themselves as learners too. It is also people who do not understand teaching at all who would ridicule this idea as weak, when it is so deep and so pertinent to solid, effective learning in schools.  

If you can think like your pupils, you will know when learning is taking place, when there are misconceptions that need addressing and when meaning is made and new learning achieved.

Likewise, the most effective pupils increasingly think like their teachers. They become so in tune with their teachers they know why they ask what we ask of them and how it will help them to learn. Their teacher has taught them how learning takes place. Their teacher has made them experts about learning.

There is a magic moment in teaching when the learner is so in tune, so with their teacher, that they could take their place. They could stand before the class and ask the right questions, instruct expertly and take everyone with them. 

A great teacher teaches as if they were learning it all themselves all over again and as if there is a small part of themselves right there learning with their pupils. 

The reality check

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Here’s a thought: most of what teachers do will have some small effect on learning, lots will have no effect but waste their time and some things they do (or could do) will have a deeply significant effect on learning.

We are now at a point in education where we can continue doing lots of these things that waste valuable time or we can take hold of our profession, drop the plethora of things that ‘we’ve always done’ and instead create great waves of learning that will last and last.

Step One:

Stop doing things that are meant to show you’re doing your job, but have no connection with helping children learn. This is not to say that some pen pushing parts of teaching will help indirectly with learning, like tracking levels, recording achievements, planning interventions etc etc, but only if they are used to impact learning. 

While it might seem obvious to use things one does, teachers spend a lot of time doing things that they will never ever return to. This is because they don’t need these things in the first place, they’re just told that one day they might, or they  fear that if caught without these things done they’ll be shown to be a terrible teacher. Well, just doing things for the sake of it, without linking them to long or short term learning outcomes,  is suffocating teaching. 

These include:

Marking work that will never be used or responded to (better to mark less and use that for improvement than mark a load of stuff that’ll just be filed away)

Annotating paper plans that will never be looked at again (if you respond to learners in real-time as you teach, why mark it in your plans? Do you need your plans to tell you who didn’t get it anyway? Do you need them to tell you who you’re going to target the next day? Really? Will you look at those plans next year, no they’ll just gather dust and you’ll use what’s saved digitally.

Setting targets that will never be read or used (if the kids never look at them and you never look at them, who will?Make target setting visible and easy for all to tick off and learn from).

Writing  evaluations that will never be reflected upon (if you’re not going to use them to change practice for better learning outcomes then bin them.)

Gathering evidence that will never be used to prove anything (if it’s going into a dusty folder just in case OFSTED call, then you’re wasting all that learning that could be shared, celebrated and enjoyed by the children themselves. Stick it all in a big, big book that everyone can see all the time, why not?)

In effect, mark, plan, set targets and evaluate when you can see how it will affect and cause learning.

A fanatic loses sight of the target, but puts in twice the effort. We need to take the fanatics out of education and as quickly as possible.