I have exactly 28 minutes to explain why I teach. It’s both too little time and too much. I can sum it up in this: because to teach is to learn, and to learn is the best thing ever.
So there, I have told you why I teach, and now I have 27 minutes and a fair few seconds left to fill. It’s at times like this that I wish I typed more slowly – the speed equivalent of putting your essays in a larger font so it seems like you did more. But I’m a teacher, and I know I’d be rumbled in a New York second if I tried that, so I’d best stop trying to fudge the system and do what I signed up to do, which is write for 28 minutes per day for 28 days in a row.
I can’t quite remember when I first thought I might fancy becoming a teacher. I’d done a fair bit of voluntary work with children through university and various jobs I’d had, but one day it apparently occurred to me that I should teach. Me. The very person who faffed around at school, never did homework, only wore uniform on one single day in the 4 years I attended secondary school, and who left school with a dodgy list of uninspiring grades in even more uninspiring subjects.
Now I am a teacher, I think those dubious credentials have actually been my best asset. I know what it’s like to be disengaged. I remember not understanding stuff and fearing to try lest I fail. I know for sure that no-one ever succeeded in conveying why any of it was important. “It” being school.
And yet I quite by accident found myself drifting back to night-school. First for one subject, then another, and another. Then a one year foundation course for uni – what the heck! And before I could say mortar board, there I was sporting the world’s dodgiest perm, on stage getting my degree.
So, I am able to tell students in all honesty why education matters. I can tell them hand on heart that failure is fabulous so long as you learn from it. I can sympathise when they cringe at the latest maths strategy or the new spelling words. And I can tell them that all effort is bloody marvellous and the best thing in the whole world is trying your hardest.
I have two stock phrases that serve me well in life:
The first is “Yet.” When anyone says they can’t do something, I reply with a smiley “Yet.” When they say they don’t like something, I say “Yet.” Soon enough they start saying it, too. And man alive, it’s liberating. Not being able to do something yet is way less burdensome than not being able to do something Full Stop. Yet… Try it.
The second of my favourite phrases is “What do you think?”
When my son asks me a question, that’s my stock reply, and he often blows me over with his replies. If I didn’t ask him, I might well assume his knowledge was far less than it really is. And I certainly would miss out on some hilarious pondering. I use it with students too… it’s the best way to find out what they know and where any misunderstandings are, as well as being happily surprised regularly at the depth of their knowledge on topics. Let them surprise you – ask “What do you think?”
It just struck me that I should really whip the phrase out a lot more with adults, too. I talk too much – maybe asking “What do you think?” would be good for both me and for the person asked. I have just decided that this is my goal for the week.
Wow, this stream of consciousness writing business is quite liberating. It’s about as good as the word ‘yet‘. No wonder James Joyce, Toni Morrison and William Faulkner were such fans.
Before retraining as a primary school teacher, I very briefly dabbled with teaching high school English. Oh man, how depressing I found that. Teaching An Inspector Calls to kids who couldn’t write a legible sentence or spell basic words seemed so upside down. All that red pen. I had to change to green pen after a few weeks, but as you can imagine, that did little to change the feeling of swimming through treacle.
The joy of primary school is that I can more easily personalise students’ learning. I don’t have to ask them to run before they can walk. And I can let them write for creativity – I can leave my metaphorical red pen in the drawer for another time when we are looking at proof reading and editing, spelling and grammar.
I tell my students that accuracy is important but it is not ALL important. That even famous writers make mistakes. That if they ever become famous themselves they will see that there’s a whole raft of people there to proof read and edit for them. So they should try hard to learn to write accurately – absolutely – but that is quite a separate thing to writing for joy. Writing for joy is a gift that should never be wrapped in a marking scheme.
So, for one month, I will write for joy. For myself. I’m very sorry if my aimless ramblings turn out not to be to your liking, but, well, to be honest, I am writing for me this time, not for you, so I will continue.
And with that I see that I have 1 min 17 seconds left to bid you farewell until tomorrow’s instalment of #28daysofwriting
Phew, just in time for Broadchurch.