Teaching: It doesn’t have to be complicated

My new book, Teach Like Nobody’s Watching, is due to be sent off to the printers any day now and should soon be winging its way out to teachers around the country. Sometimes people ask why some of us bother to write books about education; you make very little money from it and there isn’t much acclaim. So why bother?

For me this book was a labour of love and I wrote it because I believe I have an important secret to share. Teaching doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to take over your life. You should be able to do it in a way that doesn’t leave you shattered at the end of the day and you shouldn’t have to work up until the end of the day. You should be able to teach in a way that is effective but that is also efficient and leaves you time to do the other things you love. I know this should be possible because I have done it and have done so in a range of schools for a number of years.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching attempts to show how we can all make teaching a do-able job once more. It starts with the premise that actually teaching someone something is fairly simple. Watch anyone teach something to anyone and they will recap what they already know about it, show them or tell them something about it, have them try the thing and then give them some feedback on it. That’s it! However, doing these four simple things well is complex. There are many different ways to recap something or give new input. Some of these ways are more likely to work more of the time than others. Learning to do these things really well is the bit of the job that should be a joy. It is the bit where we really hone our craft.

The problem is that we have allowed teaching to be over-complicated by mainly outside forces. As a profession we haven’t always been crystal clear on what we think the purpose of a school is. This has created a gap that a multitude of forces have been only too keen to fill. Money can be made from over-complicating our jobs and people have seized this chance. Throw in a system of high-stakes accountability that leave too many school leaders jumping from initiative to initiative and we have a perfect storm culminating in the woeful teacher retention figures we see today. Why would someone want to stay in a job where they are forced to input and then justify data they know to be meaningless? Why stay a teacher when it means sitting in the hall having your Continuing Professional Development entitlement squandered as each member of a leadership team stands up to tell you how hard they work or so that a shiny-suited consultant can come in with the latest craze to embed and then let fizzle out? Why keep teaching when you are told the way you intuitively teach is wrong as it doesn’t involve you jumping through enough hoops?

Somehow we have allowed teaching to become an undo-able job. There was a time when putting on an extra-curricular club, planning a field trip or staying late to help some pupils was the cherry on the cake. Now, these activities are allowed to dominate. They have become a basic expectation so that those leaving the site haggard at 7pm are praised whereas those leaving at 4pm are viewed with suspicion, even if those leaving earlier are the more effective teacher. We are fetishising teacher burn out as a badge of honour and it needs to stop.

I hope that this is where my book will come in. I have tried to show that there is another way and it is a way that I have tried and tested over a number of years. By simplifying teaching and focusing on what works I can leave work by 3:30pm most days and enjoy my afternoons and evenings. I have time to read, run and even write the occasional book. Despite working fewer hours my pupils, at an LA comprehensive, get outstanding results, more and more pupils are opting to take the subject at GCSE, A Level and then on at university and I have time to take on additional responsibilities. Teaching in a more efficient way doesn’t make you a lazy teacher who cares less about your pupils. On the contrary, it gives you the time and space to do the things for them that really matter. You just cut the crap.

It is time for a revolution in the classroom. It is time that we teach like nobody’s watching.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching is out some time in the next month. To ensure you get your copy pre-order now.

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