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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Enjoyment.

The title of this post might make you think that it's about ensuring that pupils enjoy their lessons, all of them, visibly, whilst making rapid and sustained progress which they can explain articulately, using language and concepts way beyond their years.

It isn't. It's about you enjoying your teaching.

We all came to teaching for different reasons, and one of the reasons we stay in teaching is that, despite it all, it is incredibly enjoyable. I won't waste time going into all of the factors that make it a challenge, or patronise you by telling you how amazing it can be. Instead, I'm going to explain how I made myself enjoy and, to be honest, love teaching again.

That's right. For a while, I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't fear it; I simply didn't enjoy it.

My first years of teaching were a crazy blur of trial and error. I loved it. I used a range of strategies, some didactic, some collaborative. Some worked, some failed. Pupils did well, mostly, and I felt like I was onto something.

What changed? A few subtle things. The school's progress agenda spread. We got into the whole progress check, colourful pieces of card, flash animations idea of there being one type of good lesson and one type alone. As this happened, I progressed to head of department. New to the job, I felt I had to take these ideas on. Please note - lots of these ideas are good, valid and solid ideas, which I still use. I understood why we were working this way, but slowly began to feel constrained by the need for so many activities, and objectives being presented like this, and using various tools to demonstrate the progress that was being made. I wasn't teaching like myself.

Just over a year ago, we received the visit (a successful one) we had been preparing for, and it was crunch time. I made the decision to ensure that I enjoyed teaching again. I started playing. Instead of using the state- sanctioned WALT / WILF combo, I experimented with a range of styles, some giving freedom to pupils, others being direct and instructional. I mixed and matched. I did whole lessons without an explicit progress check. I went wildly off scheme.

I was observed, and it was fine. My team were encouraged to do the same, and, overall, the response has been great. Walking down my corridor, you see teachers enjoying teaching, and pupils enjoying learning. We work on thematic schemes, giving us the freedom to go our own way, or follow the pupils' curiosity. At the same time, SLT were looking at ways to move us further and maintain the progress we had made. They changed the observation system from a Mock-sted style hell to occasional small drop ins which aim to catch people working realistically. This contributes, in my opinion, to an atmosphere where people just work, and if you work, and enjoy it regularly, that will be seen. Now all staff are being encouraged to innovate and take the structures we'd developed that step further (please note that I am not claiming responsibility for this - I am but one cog in the wheel).

Since I've been working with this attitude, things have actually become harder. Fatherhood hit me, we ripped our house apart and put it back together, there was some small problem with GCSE results in the summer, but my teaching has been, by and large, the best it has ever been.

It's not because of a magic formula. It's not because I use SOLO (which I do) or because my pupils sit in rows (which they do, sometimes - I have a transforming classroom set up, which year ten can change to any setting in less that two minutes!) or because I lecture from the front (once I start...) or because I let the pupils select their work from a menu.

It's because I do all of these, and more, when I see fit. It's because I teach what I want to teach how I want to teach it - and curricular targets, SLT, Michael Gove and anyone else that has anything to say be damned. All I care about is my pupils being well educated, with rigour, detail, enjoyment, collaboration, context and purpose all paramount. Yes - I'm aware that is a logical fallacy, but again, I don't care.

To anyone wanting to fight back against the negative publicity, the fear and the loathing, just enjoy yourself. Fight your corner. Love what you do, every day, and then the buggers can't grind you down!