January days can feel pretty dank. The dark mornings combining with either frost or torrential rain makes any job less inviting. However, with teaching, our craft is to facilitate the interest and motivation to learn, therefore we are constantly trying to find those little jewels of passion within our subjects.
I have been thinking a lot of late about how my interest and enthusiasm, for both the pupils and the subject, makes such a difference – but this doesn’t always come naturally.
When you can feel enthusiastic and excited that pupils have arrived in your classroom for an adventure of a lifetime (within an hour!), it really does rub off – on their application to activities and curiosity to find answers or results. I know I plan more creative lessons when I am enthusiastic and I suppose that attitude is the same for pupils. It also works the other way – when pupils arrive excited it can raise my game too.
By no means does this always come easily – it is hard to maintain excitement for every lesson, five times a day, every day. For example, recently I have been exploring “what happens when you die?” with year 8 in philosophy lessons. Pupils have all been so interested to explore and discuss their ideas that I have found it infectious. Some concepts like spirits, ghosts, the paranormal, heaven or reincarnation are amazing to explore with 13-year-olds. It has been a great opportunity for every pupil to voice their opinion with others and I have found that starting a lesson by saying “I don’t know the answers, what does the evidence suggest to you?” has empowered them to seek out and satisfy their own curiosity.
I am fortunate that there are few “right and wrongs” in my subjects, it is more about developing analysis and evaluation of your own understanding, and this includes my understanding as much as the pupils’. So enthusiasm for me, generally, comes quite naturally; often when hearing ideas and perspectives that I hadn’t considered before.
However, on occasion, with “that year 8 group” who can be exhausting, it is hard to start a lesson in the same way, despite how hard I may try. I have had to dig pretty deep to display true enthusiasm when it can take 10 minutes to just get the class seated and the register taken.
I have been through the “is it just me?” discussions with the year 8 pastoral team and am more confident that this is a school-wide issue with certain classes, however, I still want to have the same expectations and enthusiasm for them as I do with other classes.
My strategy at the moment is to really promote and praise those who do respond (as they should) in line with the school ethos and display great learning attitudes. I aim to teach to the majority rather than the handful who wish to disrupt. I therefore do focus my own attention on the “good” in order to drive others to follow.
Examples of my enthusiastic and creative approach include creating a “perspectives tree” for years 10 and 11. They have all chosen a sociological perspective they identify with the most and made a leaf. They are now up on a visually amazing display in the classroom and it has allowed me to see who agrees with what in order to question effectively. Year 7 have drawn and written postcards to demonstrate their interpretation of Varanasi, India, on the River Ganges, to explore what pilgrimage must be like for Hindus. I have simulated for year 9 what it must be like to lose possessions and even family members to empathise with refugees or those who need asylum.
Enthusiastic teaching is a goal as well as a strategy. I know that the more interest I have the more it can be seen within my character, my planning and my teaching. Astute pupils can spot true interest and enthusiasm a mile off.
SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.