Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt

As a part of my formal education, I attended a teacher training college. Whilst for many taking this step was part of a vocational calling, for me it was simply a happy accident. Coming to the end of my school career (if there really is such a thing as a school career), I had no idea what my future path might be.

Indeed but for the kindly and thoughtful intervention by the head teacher at the time, I would have been heading out into the world of work utterly unprepared. Instead, my life shifted from Bradford to Worcester (grander cathedral, but less successful county cricket side) and to the College of Higher Education. (Now the more impressively named University of Worcester.)

Unlike 90% of my fellow students, I was not taking a teaching degree but instead a B.A. degree in English and Drama, for which I mostly read books, appeared in plays and played rugby. What I didn’t realise, was that most of my education was coming from my interactions with the trainee teachers on their B.Ed. courses…

As each dreaded teaching practice (TP) loomed, my corridor was a hive of activity with most of my friends carefully considering their lesson plans and schemes of work. The topic of conversation wasn’t the content, that bit was a doddle; no, it was always about method of delivery. “I’ve got the fifth years! How the hell am I going to keep a class of bl***y 16 year olds interested in ox-bow lakes and alluvial plains?” All around me were students trying to find ‘interesting and creative’ ways to put over their content and land the learning.

Long before the invention of the post-it note or the interactive whiteboard, this imaginative and for the most part enthusiastic group, were looking for ways to engage their charges. There were multiple pieces of coloured paper and cut out shapes, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles and drawings and labels and basically tons of ‘stuff’ prepared. There were also plenty of rehearsals and dry runs and playing the part of guinea-pig kids was great fun. That’s why I know so much about ox-bow lakes and alluvial plains.

Whenever asked, I was always willing to help out with an idea or two that might ‘bring something off the page’ and I was always desperate to know how it had been received.

Like my friends, I sometimes imagined the worst and visualised rows of grim-faced teenagers, or worse, a class on the edge of a riot while the trainee stood helpless and watched the carnage unfold. What I learnt was that for the most part, the imagined fear about a difficult group never really materialised and as long as the preparation had been done and an effort made to make the topic interesting and in some way participatory, the end of week report was invariably positive.

A few did come unstuck, especially those who thought that all you needed was a lot of content and who were perhaps more focused on the subject than the pupils. For some there was an intense period of attrition or indeed suspicion before they were able to achieve the towering status of “they’re alright…” For others, some of them trying the “I’m your mate because I’m not really like those older teachers” angle or maybe the “I’m in charge here even though I only look 17” style, there was a longer, harder journey to classroom acceptability.

What I learnt most of all by proxy from my good friends at college was that it was a good idea to do as much as you can to make any learning experience fun and engaging for all concerned. It’s good to have just a few key learning points to focus on and to allow for discussion and debate and not to close conversations down where time is available.

I learnt that it is a good idea to have a mix of discipline and warmth and that people respond well to authentic individuals who are willing to admit they don’t know everything but are confident enough to try new things too. What was also evident is how important it is to get to know and understand the group you are talking to.

I am grateful for everything that my teaching friends taught me and still am. My career path went from theatre into business and not teaching, but the lessons I picked up from those days have provided me with a sound basis for encouraging sometimes difficult groups to feel they can participate.

In addition I still have pretty much free learning consultancy from what are now a group of senior teachers and head teachers across the country. I’ll be seeing them again soon, for our 35th annual cricket tour. Sadly batting seems to be one lesson I was unable to learn by proxy – while they were doing that practice I was still messing around in the drama studio…


Author: Alan Heap