People often say that there are no two children born alike.
Logic follows then, that there will be no two classes of children that are alike either.
Most teachers would agree that this is true.
The many unique personalities that make up a class mean that every class is different. The class that laughs at all your jokes might be followed the next year by a stony-faced bunch that’s a much tougher crowd.
Some classes are naturally more flighty. In my first year of teaching, I taught a Primary Two class across the landing from my stage partner. One day I heard the most awful commotion- screaming, furniture being thrown around, children sobbing. Thinking some major atrocity had occurred, I raced over and threw open her classroom door, only to discover a fly had flown in through the window. My own class wouldn’t even have blinked.
Classes take on their own personalities and often their reputation will precede them (especially if it’s bad). No two classes are alike.
So why do we think it’s ok to teach them the same stuff, in the same way?
Now, just to be clear, I’m not suggesting for a second that we need to reinvent the wheel each and every academic year. In terms of your planning and the curricular content you need to cover, by all means, take the short cut. The broad strokes of what you need the majority of your learners to learn at this age and stage won’t have changed that much, so why wouldn’t you want to use that brilliant decimals and fractions plan you spent a whole week working on last year?
It would be bonkers not to use last year’s planning- as long as you are sure it’s quality and as long as you adapt it to suit the academic needs of your current learners.
What I’m talking about is how you teach it. Because you need to play to the crowd that’s in front of you.
How many times in your career have you heard that old staffroom gripe ‘they’re just not getting it. Last year’s class were much further on by now. I don’t now what the problem is!’ The insinuation here is that it’s the class’s fault. That they are not as smart, or as well-behaved as last year’s class, which is why they are not grasping things as quickly.
But is it really the class who can’t learn? Or is it because you are teaching last year’s class today?
In other words, are you in a teaching time warp?
Some teachers think it’s perfectly acceptable to teach in the same way every year. They set out their stalls- offering the same old stuff in the same old way and learners are expected to take it or leave it. It’s like an uninspiring buffet at a really bad party.
This is the VHS of teaching- pulled out and played to each new audience, or class. And if it doesn’t work? Well, it must be the learners’ fault, because it’s worked fine last year.
There is no place within what these teachers do for reflection or innovation. There is no respect given to the unique personalities and circumstances that make up the unique personality of the class. This is cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all teaching and it makes me want to punch something very, very hard.
Because this is not acceptable within our profession, or any other.
Consider this- you need an operation and as they wheel you into theatre, you overhear the surgeon saying to her colleague ‘ I don’t know why that didn’t work with that last patient, the one before him pulled through fine. I did it the exact same way I learned it back in medical school. Oh well, we’ll just try it again on this next one and see what happens.’
You would run a mile! Why?
Because your expectation, quite correctly, would be that your surgeon would have learned from what has gone before and changed her practice accordingly.
That she will have studied current best thinking and made changes to embrace it within what she does. That she will have read your notes and tailored what she plans to do to exactly suit your particular and unique requirements.
As educators, our standards should be just as high.
Teaching is an art form. It is something that you craft through experience and research and knowing your learners. Great teachers think of what they do as a living, breathing thing that changes and grows and develops, year on year, through nurture and reflection. These teachers know that every class is different and that part of the thrill and skill of teaching is using all that you have learned to adapt what you do in order to engage and provoke learning in each and every pupil you work with.
Is it always easy? Of course not! Some classes are a nightmare and will make your job as difficult as they possibly can. But that just makes it all the more rewarding when you win them over.
So as we pass the halfway point in the school year, ask yourself:
Is this just exactly what I did last year?
Have I learned from what I did in the past and made changes?
What was the last amazing thing I read about that I’ve tried in class?
What particular adjustments have I made to help this class learn better?
And once you’ve asked yourself these questions and answered them honestly, go and ask someone else in the staffroom the same questions. Eat cake and talk about your answers and then make a change based on what you have talked about.
I bang on about the need for more cake-based discussion of our practice here, if you want to know why I think the ten-minute task I have just described is the single most important thing you can do for yourself as an educator this week.
And back away from the timewarp and those sweaty vol au vents on that sad, old buffet.
Invigorate your teaching- fill it with the energy and verve you only get when you know you are learning too and bound into the second half of your academic year ready to respond to your learners.
Here’s to your best year yet.