You always need a Ted

I’m a little addicted to TED talks. You start with one which leads to another and then before you know it you’re listening to a man talking about procrastination and the irony completely escapes you. I happened upon one talk by a man named Matthew J Dicks, professional story teller and teacher, who is brilliant. He is engaging, funny and actually really useful. With a surname like Dicks he had to get popular quickly and he certainly is that. The link to the point I’m making is here…

If you don’t have 17 minutes to listen to the talk the basic idea is as a teacher time is precious equivalent to hen’s teeth. It makes you laugh, questions your sanity and makes you wonder if it ever really existed. Dicks therefore has come up with a top tip for teachers.

Expect more, do less.

This is a suggestion to redirect the workload so that you don’t kill yourself trying to achieve the impossible. Let’s face it, teachers need an army of robots to get through a term. If not robots at least a group of people invested in the learning process with some subject specific knowledge and enthusiasm with an ability to apply instruction. Sadly these are not available over the counter but they do enrol them every September.

Dicks talks about the moment he realised he could get the students doing his grunt work. He explains it in a much more amusing way than I am currently, it really would be a good listen if you have 17 minutes, but the point is he gave out roles to the students and expected the students to be accountable whilst simultaneously being able to place his energies elsewhere. From prop manager to milk monitor this guy has it covered.

Challenge accepted. If he could get elementary school kids running his department I would definitely be able to cash in on it. And cash in I have.

Last year I needed time off. My manager assured me he would arrange cover and I told him I had a better idea: the students. Reluctantly he agreed and I primed the students with resources and tasks ready to run their session in my absence. They did brilliantly.

It was so successful I told other teachers in our area about it and now they’re cashing in on it.

I’ve since had the students run homework tasks, do their own marking, lead revision sessions and today I had a student teach Shakespeare whilst I conducted 1:1 feedback sessions on a recent assessment.

I love my job. Ask anyone who knows me and they will repeat that information back to you. I love my job even more now the pressure has eased off and I’m confident will continue to do so because, in case you don’t realise, teaching is a team effort. For a long time I thought that meant colleagues but in reality it is the students and I have the best team in the land.

Sunday musings

Depending on which calendar you follow we are now at the end of the first week back or at the beginning of the second week and yet it already feels as though we deserve a half term break. For the non-teachers reading this I can hear your gasp of horror, for the teachers I can hear your sigh of relief. You’re not alone in your exhaustion.

After five short days back at work it feels as though a term’s worth of energy has been used up. Partially because my resolution to be more organised ended up making lunch look a lot like this…

In my defence the canteen had run out of potatoes.

Of all the things I’m taking away from the week just gone is a lesson in empathy. Or perhaps lack thereof.

In one class I was applying a concept from “How to Teach English” the book I referenced previously. In it the author was explaining an approach to teaching poetry. I lapped the advice up as poetry is perhaps my weakest part of the curriculum and felt so inspired I wanted to share the insights with my students. The author makes the point about the emotional connection a poet transmits when writing poetry. Although as a 21st century reader we may not understand the fear of war discussed in WW1 poetry, we can relate to fear. I explained this in my session and yet instead of seeing a group of inspired teenagers they looked on blankly. I pushed on; the point had felt ground breaking to me, clearly my explanation needed some work. I chose loss as the next point.

“Although we can’t understand Heaney’s specific sense of loss, loss is universal.”

Blank faces.

“Ok, show of hands, how many of you have lost a love one.”

Three raised hands and I had my light bulb moment.

“Ah.”

These students haven’t had the kind of earth shattering pain that the death of a loved one can provoke. Part of me was thankful – who would wish that on anyone, the rest of me started to mentally check all the times I’ve assumed the learners would have been able to empathise with some of the key themes of the poetry when in fact life hasn’t dished that experience out yet.

Teaching is about so much more than explaining a core text or key formula. You have to help your students work out how they learn, how to interact with each other, formulate and defend viewpoints, the list continues. It seems facilitating their emotional intelligence growth is now on the list. I’m excited for the challenge but I must admit I’m going back to the books for help on this one!

Ready to Sparkle

‘Twas the night before term and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

Teachers the world over spend their last night of bliss, hoping and praying they left their desk free of mess.

The alarm clocks are set and the lunches all packed, the essays are marked and scores ready to be tracked.

Come on Saint Nic do us a favour, turn the rascals to angels or legalise tazers.

Wishing all of the teachers across the land a very peaceful last evening of Christmas break. Remember it’s only 6 weeks until February half term, we can do this!

Hey, everyone.

Today I started reading How to Teach English by Chris Curtis during some down time and immediately connected with the writer. As an educator, he describes himself as ‘bog standard’ and admits to having dropped food down his front. It felt like he views himself the way I view myself. Nothing special and particularly human.

Love the heading I’ve photographed here!

I have been teaching for about 9 years so in theory I could write the book but that’s just it. It’s a theory and an especially abstract one at that! I have had lots of successes, hundreds of stories and a whole host of mistakes with little evidence, except my shoddy memory and grey hair, that they ever happened.

During my training to become a teacher I had to write a PDJ or Personal Development Journal. Being the nerd that I was, and still am, it was full of quotations from theorists, fellow educators and scientists. I took the task very seriously and I was gutted recently not to be able to put my hand on it, to look back at how green I was and enjoy how much I have changed – or not as the case may be. I still read around my subject, I still reflect on what happened in a classroom but I still need help.

The third and last graduation… for a while at least.

When I read ‘how to’ books I generally jump to the good parts- the bits with all the ideas so that I can enhance my lessons quickly. I often see them as a quick fix and if they don’t deliver that’s on them not me. Sounds a lot like some of my students! The thing is, with just my shoddy memory to rely on, I’m not sure if I have remembered correctly the lessons I have taught or the ones my students have taught me.

This leads us here. To a new blog. Yes, it’s my third. I am just as likely to let my dedication to it slip at stages like I did the others. Let’s focus on my optimism that I started another rather than my rather shakey blogging history.

I am a veteran of the classroom but an infant with technology. I make mistakes and learn lessons all of the time. I hope you will become my critical friend as I look at how I teach English.

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Neil MacDonald Author

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