I've been doing some writing today about the teacher as a role model, and it's got me thinking about what does make for a good role model in the classroom, and what doesn't.
As ever, I find myself thinking back to my own school days for material, delving into my own experiences to work out what I think. What was it that made a few of my teachers stand out from the rest? Why did those ones inspire me, whilst others made me hate a lesson, or a subject, or made me feel that I was no good at it? (And, indeed, what about those teachers who failed to provoke any reaction at all. The ones who left absolutely no indent on my youthful self: perhaps the very worst of all possible fates for a teacher?)
At my junior school, there was one teacher I actively disliked (perhaps despised might not be too strong a word for how I feel about that teacher when I look back on that period of my life). The problem was, I was downright terrified of her. She scared me, and the rest of the class, into submission. We behaved because we were too scared not to. Funnily enough, although that teacher was certainly not a role model of how you should teach, she have provided me with plenty of material for when I'm considering how you shouldn't do it. The year I had that teacher, I became what is now known as a 'school refuser'.
When I'm asked whether I think that behaviour has deteriorated in the last decade or two, I think back to that teacher before I reply. Yes, I say, modern day students are far more willing to stand up to their teachers and question what happens in the classroom. Yes, I say, they are all too willing to tell you about their 'rights', their 'choices', about how they deserve 'respect' (often without understanding what any of that stuff actually means). But equally, I point out, they are no longer willing to put up with a teacher who terrifies them into submission. These days, you have to do it with your skill as a teacher, and not with the so-called 'authority' that used to be the trump card of those in professional roles.
Enough of the bad role models - what about the good ones - what was it that made them so special? Let me tell you about two - both English teachers - both inspirational to me - but totally different in almost every other way. 'Miss X' was one of my English teachers at secondary school. As a role model, she offered a sweet nature, a willingness to let us explore a subject or topic that we loved, a positive manner that never seemed to trip over into sarcasm or negativity. She was beautiful too, which I should imagine helped her in managing the boys' behaviour. Then there was 'Miss Y'. She helped me pass my English A Level, after I'd left school. As a role model, she offered a fervent belief in my ability, a willingness to listen to my most outlandish ideas, and she was also passionate about her subject - she adored those poets that we discussed, and inspired me to adore them too.
Looking back on my teaching career, I'd like to think that I've been able to inspire the occasional student as well, to be a role model for them in the same way that these teachers were role models for me. And once in a while, I get the hint that I might just have managed it. The unexpected email from a student I once worked with, updating me on their progress out in the real world. I'm not sure there are any strategies that I can give you to help you become a better role model for your students. But what I do know, is that if you love learning, love your subject and like kids too, that will come through in the way that you present yourself to your class. And they'll remember you for it, look back on you fondly over the years.
You will, in the phrase beloved of government adverts, have 'made a difference'.
Elephants in the Classroom
You know that saying, about there being an 'elephant in the room': something everyone knows is there, but no one wants to mention? In teaching, there isn't just one elephant in the classroom, there's a whole herd of them, rampaging through the room. In this blog I plan to turn a spotlight on some of the unspoken and sometimes unpalatable truths about our noble profession (and the good stuff too). Because if we can't be honest about what makes a good learning experience, an effective school, or a good teacher, and equally what makes a bad one, then everyone loses.