Inspirational teaching…from safe to sensational?

Posted: November 7, 2012 in Teaching and Education
Tags: , , ,

My final lesson of today was rudely usurped by a ‘careers’ lesson, an annual (more often if we’re unlucky) chore bestowed upon the English teachers to make up for an apparent lack of time/money/resources for the Careers team to deliver the material themselves.  No disrespect to the Careers team whatsoever – I imagine they are equally disgruntled to have been granted such measly windows of opportunity to educate our 1600 strong cohort about the joys of the working world.  But to steal a full hour of teaching time with my challenging but lovely class of Y8 students and instead send me (actually I had to pick it up) an old box of half-finished worksheets, a class of students I’ve never worked with before, and a lesson plan – allegedly designed to fill a whole hour – that includes completing a tick box activity and a group discussion of three questions – leaves me somewhat cold.

We made the most of it.  Once the five minute tick box extravaganza was over (and forgotten), we had a brief chat about careers, fuelled a little by my mention of Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’ I finished reading at the weekend (a happy coincidence) (see previous blog).  Then, being the final fifteen minutes of the school day, we turned to my trusty ‘Learning Habits Activities’ powerpoint – a eighteen month collection of games, activities and learning approaches which foster a number of different ‘learning habits’.  One of my favourites with regard to student enjoyment is ‘Fruit Bowl’, a game whereby each student is assigned one of three fruit names, all students sit on chairs in a circle bar one student standing in the centre ready to shout one of the fruit names out loud.  All students with that assigned fruit name jump out of their chair and launch themselves across the room to find another vacant chair with the aim of not becoming the one person left standing.  I rarely join in the jostle due to a fond attachment to my limbs but the enjoyment of seeing such excitement in their eyes, such energy in their movement, such determination and alertness is something that never fails to amuse and delight me.

But also make me feel a little sad.  I hurried from this final lesson straight to a member of our senior management team to receive a little feedback about a lesson observation I’d had earlier in the week (one with parents invited to come and observe which has proved understandably controversial…but that’s another story).  I’ve had a number of formal observations in the past year, mainly to exhibit the use of learning habits (as a newish school initiative) and feedback is generally similar: good feedback about behaviour management and learning progress, about fostering the learning habits and about my calm, respectful demeanour (I’d like to dampen what could be read here as a touch of arrogance by assuring you these are ‘pull out all the stops’ lessons and I, like everyone, juggle my fair share of tempers lost and lessons ‘winged’).  But it is this ‘calm, respectful demeanour’ which is making me a bit uncertain.  Yes, the lessons are well controlled and students are typically respectful and sometimes engage with what I’m saying.  On a good day, they even seem reasonably happy to appear at my door! But never in all my teaching of English have I seen that look in their eye that I smiled at earlier today as they tore across the classroom searching for that empty chair.  Maybe it’s ok for play and ‘learning’ (work) to be different; maybe it’s alright for learning to be calm and focused but not especially motivating…but maybe not.  I’m not supposing each and every lesson could inspire those gleaming-with-excitement-eyes but some…surely some?!! How important is that sensational experience of joy, excitement and inspiration in the classroom? And how on earth do I move from safe to sensational?

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