When I first set up my ‘Teacher Twitter’ handle (?) about two years ago, I opted for the name ‘@PositivTeacha‘, the idea being that-in reaction to the startling amount of negativity which seems to be endemic in teaching-I’d post a daily Tweet that would serve as a reminder to me and my followers (all 6 of them) as to why we do the job we do.
Here’s a selection of my first tweets:
Watched yr8 talent show last week. Now, when I hear Jessie J on the radio, instead of ripping my ear drums out with bare hands, I smile.
Only 2 girls turned up for 1st day of KS4 writing club today. That’s 2 new people who’ll laugh at my jokes out of politeness. Still counts.
Helped a year 12 student to come up with an idea for her Media Studies coursework. The idea was a bit shit; now it’s a bit good.
Student got a D in an essay last week. Told her how to improve. Made her rewrite. She complained. Rewrite: A grade.
Playground duty today: played keepie uppies using some litter with the ‘naughty’ Year 9 boys. Had fun. Smiling, the loser put litter in bin.
Now, whilst there’s a sunny outlook that underlines all these tweets, it’s fair to say that the 675 I’ve posted since these initial 5, haven’t necessarily been so overtly positive. Why? It’s not because I’ve become miserable (I always swore to myself that I’d never be the teacher that counts down to the holidays and I’ve remained true to that). And my tweets aren’t doom-laden. However, they are:
- Wittily Sardonic (thanks @nataliehscott)
Why has this happened? I think it’s simply because I’ve become more aware of the complexities of learning and how children should or shouldn’t be taught. And a lot of education is full of a lot of shit.
Anyway, the other morning I was trying to ingratiate myself with the Twitterati by intruding on somebody else’s conversation and Tom Bennett, in response to a sycophantic, but sincere, comment in which I praised an article of his replied, ‘Wow. You really ARE positive.’ And then I remembered: @PositivTeacha. I’d genuinely forgotten that that was the Twitter handle (?) I’d signed up with all those years previously.
I’m rambling. And I want to be positive. So here’s three quite specific things that have made me feel good, so far, this year.
David is a Year 10 student who, in National Curriculum levels, is probably still, after 3 and a bit years of solid education, intervention and support, is working at a 3a/4c. He struggles with writing, and reading, and speaking. And yet, in spite of this he remains, the most enthusiastic, the most resilient, and the funniest student I’ve ever met. His sheer enthusiasm for any subject is nothing short of inspiring. On school trips, he’s not interested in knowing whether there’s a Nandos nearby, or if we can stop off to get sweets. Concerning himself with trivial matters such as these would only potentially get in the way of him finding out, from the tour guide, how Shakespeare plays were performed in the 16th century, or of him hearing the line he’s heard so many times in class, being delivered by a real-life actor in a real-life theatre on a real-life stage. Learning matters for David.
Because of David’s lower ability, a hormone deficiency that renders him less physically mature than the other boys who tower above him, and some quite severe speech difficulties, he does not have many friends his own age. That’s not to say he’s not loved by students in the school; he is. In a rather touching (although occasionally condescending) way, students clamour to be high-fived by him as he walks past them in the corridor. However, probably because of all the support stuctures he’s had in place over the years, David simply seems to be more comfortable in the company of adults. He’s often seen chatting with the caretakers, and all the dinner staff, in a school of over 2000 students, know him by name. Everyone knows him by name.
This term, and for the first time in his life, David read a book, from front to back, for pleasure. Knowing his predilection for all things Super-Hero, it was not an accident that, upon him visiting me for one of our regular chats on ‘What would you do if you could travel through time’, David found me flicking through a brand new copy of Marvel’s graphic novel, ‘Civil War.’
“What’s that?” he asked. Hook, line and sinker. It took him two months to read it, and my brand new copy of one of my favourite graphic novels now looks like it was chewed up and spat out, as well as read, but David read. What’s more, he wants to read more. And that was me that did that.
A New Approach to Persuasive Writing.
Teaching persuasive writing to Year 11 used to go like this for me.
- Teach AFOREST (Anecdote, Fact, Opinion, Rhetorical Questions, Emotive Language, Statistics, Tricolon).
- Show students old exam question
- Get students to come up with 6 reasons for or against argument laid out in question
- Get students to write essay-remind them to whack in some AFOREST every now and again.
Awful. Just awful. But now, and I’ll go into this in more detail in a later post, I’ve completely changed the way I get students to write persuasively.
My inspiration has been Sam Leith’s ‘You Talkin to Me?’ and Mark Forsyth’s ‘Elements of Eloquence.’ The books, which deal with the art of rhetoric as their subject, have revolutionised the way I teach persuasive writing.
The results have been better structured, more mature, more interesting pieces of work from my Year 11s. And that was me that did that.
Arnold is the (made up) name of a student I teach. He’s a pleasant student who tries hard and smiles a lot because he’s polite and because he enjoys my lessons. About four weeks ago, Arnold stopped smiling. I picked up on it straight away and at the end of the lesson, I asked him if he was OK. Arnold told me he couldn’t talk about it because he’d cry if he did and he didn’t want me to see him cry. Sensing his embarrassment, I told him that there are people he can speak to if he wants, and he nodded. I asked him if he wanted me to mention anything to his Head of Year and he said, “no.” Assuming Arnold’s sadness was nothing more than a schoolboy bust-up or an ‘off-day’, I made the decision not to tell his Head of Year unless his sadness persisted.
And sure enough, next lesson, Arnold was fine. In fact, Arnold was back to his usual self for a week or so. But then he was sad again. This time I told Arnold that I had to make a decision, as an adult and someone who was responsible for his well-being. I told him I was worried about him and that I would be speaking to his Head of Year.
His Head of Year had never had to speak to Arnold about any pastoral issues in five years. She was surprised to hear my concerns: “But he’s always smiling isn’t he?” Turns out, no. Arnold isn’t always smiling at all. Recently there have been problems at home and many of his friends are experiencing problems in their home lives too. Arnold is always there to support his friends; they love that he’s always smiling. Problem is, with all the stress at home, and all the problems his friends are having, nobody really has the time to smile at Arnold. And this upsets him. A lot.
Arnold has been to a councillor now and it turns out he might have a few serious issues he’s going to need to work out himself too.A doctor is involved. The other day, I received an email from Arnold that said, ‘Thanks for your help. I wouldn’t have said anything to anyone so I appreciate what you did Sir. I hope it’s not going to be awkward in English now.’ That last bit is heartbreaking. Of course it isn’t awkward in English now. I laugh and joke with Arnold just like I always have and he’s smiling a lot more than he has been recently. And that was me that did that.
Disclaimer: ‘And that was me that did that.’ Yes, I know it’s not all about me. Yes, I know I’m not the only one that impacts these pupils’ lives. But I DO, do a lot and I SHOULD be proud of that fact. After all, it’s so I could do a lot that made me become a teacher in the first place.