A departing pupil’s advice for future teachers

Jul 30, 2014 by

Share your enthusiasm with pupils and welcome probing questions from ‘nerds’, a former pupil suggests

Teachers typically fear the perpetually uninterested student who simply does not care – yet fascinated students can be just as tiresome. Being a nerd, I have never been short of awkward questions – but the response from teachers has often been frustrating.

Particularly in subjects like English, where wide ranging discussions can arise, only allowing ideas to flow in the direction you intend will alienate interested students.

I left sixth-form this year, but here are my tips on how the teachers of the future can keep nerds interested and still make it through the lesson plan.

Push passion before practicality

While most subjects have practical value in the real world, this does not mean pupils need these skills to go about our everyday lives. Most pupils who take English are doing so because their future plans require it, not because creative writing will be crucial to our morning routine.

Yet pupils are often told that we need these subjects and cannot function without them. This insistence normally only occurs when teachers have given up on getting students interested. But pupils are entirely aware that we don’t need to understand calculus to keep track of the bills, or comprehend Dickens authorial intent to compose an email.

Instead, why not use a resource every teacher (presumably) has: a genuine love for their own subject. Even if your pupils don’t share your enthusiasm, they will appreciate it.

The curriculum is the box to think outside of

As a teacher, you may have little control over course content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think outside of the box with how you deliver it. Perhaps you have to cover states of matter, but among the usual ice-water-steam examples you can also show them what a corn-starch suspension does in a sub-woofer. Perhaps the connecting theme in your English language course is gender. Naturally, the likes of Atwood and Woolf will feature, but why not throw in a bit of Fight Club as well?

Some pupils will never love your subject, but most should appreciate that there is more to it than they can learn at school.

Never say: ‘You don’t need to know that’

Teaching is a high pressure job, with the weight of pupil performance largely resting on your shoulders. However, if your pupils are interested and engaged enough to ask probing questions, then you are doing something right.

It seems obvious that this should be encouraged, but when rushing to get through a lesson plan there is an unfortunate tendency to view these questions as a nuisance. Thus, a frequent and frustrating response emerges: “You don’t need to know that.”

The attitude that the purpose of school is to pass exams, or that knowledge for knowledge’s sake is frivolous, has no place in a school. If there really is no time to answer these questions, try pointing students towards relevant books or websites.

Consider further reading

While the prospect of doing any more reading than is strictly necessary will strike fear into most pupil’s hearts, having extra resources on hand is a great idea. This doesn’t mean having a hardback textbook, heavy enough to dispatch small rodents, which you thud down on to the desk of the offending student (as an English teacher of mine was fond of doing). But knowing where to go to satisfy our curiosity – whether it’s a stack of New Scientists on your desk, or a Crash Course video – is invaluable.

As a teacher, you will not have the time to talk to every passionate pupil after each lessons as much as you may want to. However, you can give them the ability and resources to pursue their passions, which (you never know) could lead to years of study in the field.

via A departing pupil’s advice for future teachers: put passion before practicality | Education | theguardian.com.

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