I love being a teacher. After 14 years in the classroom I just can’t imagine doing anything else. I love sharing the love for my subject and having the opportunity to keep studying it myself. I love the fact that every day is different to the last and always has new challenges. I love having the ability to make a difference.
But there are frustrations with the job. These usually come from those things that add to our workload without having an impact on pupil progress. Nonsensical marking policies, assessment designs that expect us to predict outcomes like Mystic Meg, meetings for the sake of meetings, lessons designed to show progress rather than achieve it; I think all teachers could produce such a list and that these lists would be both long and all eerily similar.
This is why I often call on teachers to teach like nobody’s watching, or like everybody is. It shouldn’t make a difference if we have the confidence in our craft and our profession. When we ignore league tables, OFSTED inspections, SLT learning walks and other external audiences we can focus on learning. We can look for the most effective and efficient way of ensuring that pupils make progress.
And this is vitally important. Teachers are increasingly reporting that high workload is driving them from the classroom. Schools are reporting increasing difficulties in recruiting staff. Teaching is becoming a less desirable profession. A second reason it is more important than ever to find effective and efficient ways of teaching is because of funding cuts. Money in schools hasn’t been so tight in years and we are being asked to do much more than ever before. We can’t continue with inefficient practice without the system giving way under its own weight.
The problem is that years of teaching to appease these external audiences has muddied the water and left things unclear. People have lost sight of what effective teaching really looks like. Many teachers have lost confidence in their ability to just teach, as we have been pulled along from fad to fad and ever shifting priorities. Messages have becomes mixed and myths and pseudoscience abound. These are just a few of the things I have heard from teachers in recent months:
- You shouldn’t stand at the front of the class, you should teach from different points,
- You need mini-plenaries throughout the lesson or pupils won’t make progress,
- They only remember 10% of what they hear but 90% of what they find out for themselves,
- We need to put verbal feedback stamps in books so that they remember what we said,
- Teacher talk should be limited to 10% of the lesson.
When I think of the bizarre things I have been taught as absolute fact about teaching and learning over the years you can see where these ideas come from, and why something needs to change.
I see the call to ‘teach like nobody’s watching’ to be a sort of teaching year zero. A plea that we start again and strip teaching back to its basics. We need to look at all aspects of teaching afresh and ask “is this the best way?” We have seen a succession of government’s mess about with structural reform in education. What we now need are teachers themselves to look at root and branch reform of the practice of education.
I’ll leave you with a question – if you knew that no one would ever check, what would be the first thing you would stop doing?