As I get older, I am starting to embrace some facets of middle age: comfortable shoes, sensible bedtimes, a strange fondness for Philip Schofield. The things I looked on as sad, or clichéd, as a chipper young twenty-year-old, now have a special place in my heart. And so it is with teaching.
Lesson Planning: Do you need to reinvent the wheel?
When I first started out, I was going to change the world. All my lessons had to be sparkly and fresh and edgy. I would take classes to the bottom of the school field or encourage them to stand on their desks to re-enact the battle of Agincourt. And I wouldn’t teach any of those traditional texts that everyone else taught – oh no. I would spend hours trawling anthologies and libraries for new poems, new novels, new plays which would appeal to my classes.
It was all very exciting, but also, it was exhausting.
A Transformative Moment
As I got into my stride, I started to realise that there was so much other stuff to focus on. Marking, admin, parents, TLRs, classroom decoration, form time… there was quite enough to fill my day without looking for new ways teach. The constant need to be different was actually making me stressed.
The actual Damascene moment came for me when I introduced a group of Year Sevens to The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. I hadn’t wanted to – I had wanted to find something risky and cool and unusual – maybe a rap song – to work on with them. But I’d run out of time and grabbed a classic poem which I remembered from my own childhood. I’d thought the lesson would be boring, but I was wrong.
They loved it, and so did I.
That lesson produced some of the best work I’d had out of the class that term. As I studied the poem with them, I remembered how much I loved it: what a cracking story it is; how comforting and clever the rhythms are; the brilliance of the rising tension; how beautiful some of the lines are in their simplicity: the road was a ribbon of moonlight.
Oldies but Goodies
There was a reason I remembered the poem from my childhood, and there was a reason it is still taught to students today. Because it is good. And I realised that that is so true of so many things. The reason why teachers use think-pair-share and teach Romeo and Juliet every blinking year and wheel out that same old Dracula extract when teaching mounting tension and say brain-book-buddy when a student asks a question for the third time and start every poetry unit with a packet of sherbet lemons is because these things work. They have been tried and tested over the years and they have are still strong, solid and inspiring. In short, just like me in my middle age, they are oldies but goodies.
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Passion or Planning: Where Should a Teacher’s Priorities Lie?