“Try not to have a good time…this is supposed to be educational”

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It’s a crazy time. Just when you think you’ve heard the worst there it is, another little twitter murmur that gets louder and louder to something that hits one part of our teaching community hard. One time it’s the Year Elevens struggling with every opportunity to get their grade Cs in Maths and English or perhaps it’s the SEN departments seeing cuts that will thwart their work. Twitter is groaning under the strain of debates about the value of QTS and of course we now have GCSE subjects under threat of closure. Crazy times. However, we should remember the scary times that we thought were coming, but have managed to evaporate so far. There is still time to make a difference and if anybody is capable of making a difference then it’s the teaching community. It’s reassuring that programmes like the last episode of Educating Yorkshire, showing the reactions of teachers to Musharaf’s farewell speech to his peers, reminds us of those moments. For me, what was even more gratifying, was to see a tiny cross-section of the public’s reaction to that episode when watching Gogglebox. As a teacher we know those moments of revelation, but it was good to see that shared with the wider community through the small box in the corner of the room. We should take comfort that retired, 79 year old Leon, a Gogglebox regular and retired teacher, saw that and wanted to be back there. ‘Teaching’s a great profession‘, he remarked to his wife, June, also a retired teacher.

Like many, I suspect, one of the main reasons why I became a teacher was because I was taught so well. It’s amazing what you can remember, the moments of kindness and encouragement as you look back over your own education. I can think of primary school teachers who encouraged our creativity and imaginations. In days before pupils had official labels and were lively or bizarre, I can think of teachers such as Mr B, who protected their quirky reactions and made them feel safe in the classroom. I can think of Mrs W and Mr W who encouraged me and my friend to perform our tribute to Morecambe and Wise in front of the school, such a forgiving and positive audience! At secondary school I quickly found subjects that made me feel at home. I loved the freedom to develop ideas in Art with Mrs H who genuinely seemed to believe that we could achieve anything we wanted to on the paper. I also loved the variety that RE offered me with our teacher who made us laugh with his fantastical tales. I was lucky enough to have my early RE lessons with Terence Copley who introduced each new denomination or religion by telling us that he had a cousin that believed in that. We marvelled at the glorious diversity of his curious family tree – he had us hooked. We quizzed him endlessly about the cousin of the day to see if we could catch him out. I can honestly say that I learnt a lot in such a joyous, unselfconscious way. Isn’t that what it was all about and is still all about today – the simplicity of the learning experience?

Don’t get me wrong I am not against complexity. Like Leon, I think teaching is an amazing profession, and being a professional I think we should have a great deal of pride in wanting to perfect our skills. In these crazy days then, I think we have to hold onto the joy and know that teaching is bigger than any latest press release that comes along. Political theories come and go, but the art of teaching well to promote learning will continue. The title of this blog is a wry quotation from Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and perhaps his portrayal of droning teachers suggests a distinct lack of a good time. Education could be seen as a compulsory necessity rather than anything fun. However, the increased number of pupils visiting Thornhill Academy’s Open Days and the hundreds of teachers emailing for jobs there, suggests that success in education has an awful lot to do with having a good time. The teachers make the lessons look fun, the experience looks uplifting, it looks rewarding and that’s because teaching is all of those things. Yes it is frustrating when we have to use one set of paperwork and then the latest inspection memo tells us we have to rewrite everything in a new format, but we do it and it doesn’t stop it being fun teaching students.

I’m not sure I have ever seen so many colleagues so demoralised by the current state of affairs and it is really sad. Perhaps it is because there has never been a time when teachers are able to communicate with each other as we can now, so we are more aware of the national ‘staff room climate’. The flip side of that is that there has never been a time when we have shared so much of what is working well with us. I think it is great when teachers share their classrooms, displays, lessons, productions, events and achievements with each other.

It’s amazing that one person can have such an influence on the direction of education today. It’s ironic really that we are having debates about whether teachers need to be qualified because someone without any teaching or educational qualifications has suggested it doesn’t matter. 20131101-192727.jpgNever has education felt so political, but that shouldn’t hold us back in our work. This is certainly not the first time I’ve been told by a non-teacher how to be a teacher. It’s a curious thing that so many feel qualified to comment on how to be a teacher. I think lots of people enjoyed David Schneider’s take on this, when he tweeted, ‘I’d respect Michael Gove’s passion for unqualified teachers more if he agreed to be operated on by an unqualified surgeon‘. The learning process is a fascinating, captivating challenge. If someone came along and told me that there was one way that people learn I would laugh heartily. How can that possibly be true when we are working with human beings? The notion that we can prove that a particular method works definitively or that things have to be done in a certain way is crazy. Our classrooms are filled with individuals, not clones, and that’s what everyone else is seeing on television, good teachers working with individuals.

We can weather this storm, because we are teachers, we are professionals. Just remember the joy. Think about the last time you felt that joy in a lesson, because they got it, because an individual pupil got it,because an activity went well, because your class made you laugh, because they performed well in a test. Watching the faces of the teachers when Musharaf was speaking in Educating Yorkshire was moving because we know how that feels. Cling on to your beliefs and remain true to your vocation and this too shall pass.

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