The last 24 hours of my teaching life have been really fantastic. I love teaching, but it’s not all fantastic. So, what has made the last day so good?
Yesterday afternoon I was working with history teacher trainees at the University of York on the tricky concept of historical interpretations. Like all history teachers, I’ve spent a lot of hours in my career thinking about, and trying out, teaching strategies to help my students make progress with this concept. However, planning how to help teacher trainees get to grips with the concept, and then learning alongside them as we worked through the session, undoubtedly sharpened my practice once again. How do I know that? By coincidence my Y8 and Y10 lessons today focused upon historical interpretations. They went really well! Teachers all know that sense of it clicking, as opposed to it not quite clicking. Same sort of lesson as before, same me, but I was ‘on it’ today as a direct result of yesterday’s sharpening up of my own thinking. My students are the winners here.
Key ingredient? Time to think about the concept and how to teach it,followed by time to work with and discuss it.
There was more…! My lower 6th used an exercise in Ian Dawson’s ‘Wars of the Roses’ book and it did what I needed it to do. How brilliant to work as part of a wider teaching community where I can pick up talented people’s ideas and run with them. Having seen Ian model his ideas, I knew how to adapt what we were doing to the needs of my class. My students win again.
Key ingredient? Time to attend subject specific INSET.
And then…! My Year 7 lesson was a recycled version of a detective exercise that Ruth Lingard and I developed for the York ISSP in 2012. This city-wide partnership gave us the chance to work with the city archaeologist to develop materials to enthuse able and interested students on Saturday mornings. My students win again with something really robust that is easily adapted to the everyday classroom.
Key ingredient? Time for partnership working with experts in a subject.
Then, the icing on the cake…! At lunchtime we had a staff bring and brag session about teaching strategies that work. A meeting initiated by classroom staff, our theme today was tackling the tricky and boring bits. I came away from the 30 minutes uplifted and with a couple of ideas I can transfer to my history classroom tomorrow. That should be another student win!
Key ingredient? Time to share subject specific strategies with colleagues and reflect on how they can be adapted.
Time to be creative is something we sacrifice at our peril. Every teacher should have these experiences. Yet there are a lot of pressures in the system that are remorselessly cutting and cutting teacher time to reflect and plan. Returning to an interpretations theme; some people argue we are all at the mercy of systems and forces of change beyond our day-to-day control. Are we really? There are other interpretations. What might happen if individually, no matter what, we start prioritising time to be creative? What might happen if we as a profession start doing the same? The continued erosion of creative thinking time is not inevitable. Things rarely are – my Year 10s will tell you that! Our students will be the winners if we can find the strength, belief and creativity to do this.