No matter how much information we have sometimes it is hard to get into a good writing routine. So this week I am taking the plunge and have signed up for a 7 day blogging challenge. Darren Rouse over at ProBlogger is running this. I like Darren, he is an Aussie guy who lives in Melbourne like me. Darren was one of the early embracers of the online world and has become a major influencer with several sites and online businesses. Mostly I like Darren because he looks and sounds so ‘ordinary.’ He lives in the suburbs, doesn’t ‘suit-up’ for his videos and when the doorbell rings in the middle of a video podcast, he just goes and answers it. Nothing super slick or hyper produced, yet he has over 300,000 subscribers to ProBlogger alone and his various sites get millions of visitors each year. He makes it all seem possible.

This first challenge, today, is to write a list post. List posts take many forms, some are simple and very short, others can be extraordinarily long with massive amounts of information. Tempting as it is to go for the short and the simple, maybe my 5 Favourite Books of All-time, or something like that, I think that would be cheating. We want whatever we present here at We Teach Well to be useful to you. At the same time I only have a few hours to complete this so an in depth researched article is not going to happen.

Fortunately some months ago ProBlogger gave away a series of 6 months worth of writing prompts for times when we bloggers don’t quite know what to write about. It s possible that I am getting caught out here. I have a sneaking suspicion that Judy thought all the prompts in the google doc were made up by me. Not so. Like every good English teacher I know that I often need help and inspiration from others. Collaboration creates exponentially greater results than we can ever achieve on our own.

So on with the list

The 4 Essential Activities for an English Teacher.

In no particular order:

1. Read

English teachers must read and read widely.

Sign up for Goodreads and check out their suggestions, check out the Man Booker Prize for each year and the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize to keep abreast of modern books, and the Greatest Books site will give you all the classics. I have provided some links at the end of the post.

For those who chose to be English teachers this is not usually a problem. You studied Literature at University and you love books. Reading is as much a part of your essential activities as breathing. For we older folks this means that our house size was not dependant on how many children we had but how many book-cases we could fit in. We know that the greatest invention of the 20thC was e-readers because now we can have all the books we want without the giant mortgage required to house them.

However, there are a large number of teachers for whom English was a second choice, or who were given English classes because of the mistaken belief that if you can speak it you can teach it. For some of those, reading is not yet the delight we know it to be. However it is never too late to start.

We know that it is important for students to read and we need to be able to find texts that will be accessible to them. The only way to do this is to have knowledge of a wide variety of texts from our own reading. Furthermore, we can’t expect them to read if we don’t.

2. Collaborate

Collaboration is the key to great teaching, it is also the key to remaining sane while you do it. No matter how much we know or how much experience we have, we are human and therefore do not know everything. When we collaborate with other educators we all benefit and so do our students. This can be difficult sometimes, timetabling and playground duty often means that we have little time with our colleagues in the staffroom. Wise school leaders will ensure that the time and space is provided for teachers to work together.

Teaching a student in school well requires a collaboration between teacher, school, parents and students. Positive results happen when at least 3 of the 4 are working. When one is missing, preferably not the teacher or the student, it is possible to move forward. When the balance goes the other way it is nearly impossible. This is when many dedicated teachers start to suffer burn-out because they blame themselves rather than the circumstances. Teachers who can build positive communication with parents make their own job much easier.

3. Learn

Teaching is like driving, you only really learn how to do it well once you start doing it. Teachers need to be constantly learning. And not just because someone demands it. Professional development needs to be seen as an opportunity rather than an obligation. Of course this will depend on the quality and content of the PD, but that is a discussion for another day.

Teachers need to understand that we learn from our students. Bright students provided with engaging content and learning situations give voice to remarkable ideas and thoughts. They have much to teach us if we allow them.

Teachers need to embrace new methods. Much like the printing press of old, digital technology is here to stay and no amount of denial will change that. We are educating our students for a future that will be vastly different from the one we learned in and in order for them to be equipped we must keep up.

A fascinating development in collaboration includes groups of teachers and educational professionals using Twitter to collaborate virtually. I have found these conversations and the exchange of ideas invigorating. This sharing of knowledge and pedagogy globally is going to have a profound effect on teaching in the next decades. Rather than ignore it we need to learn to master and use it in a way that creates positive engagement for our students. This sharing of knowledge and pedagogy globally is going to have a profound effect on teaching in the next decades.

4. Care

When John Holt published his 2 volumes, How Children Fail  and How Children Learn in 1964 and 1967 respectively, they were decades ahead of their time. Amongst his many criticisms of school systems and thoughts on education he made the comment that children learn from people they like. I am not sure of the exact reference details. Unfortunately many took this to mean that teachers had to make themselves likeable, cool, ‘one of the kids.’ This is not the case. What Holt was alluding to was that children are more open and receptive to people they respect, people who are authentic and who respect them.

This is crucial. Unfortunately many of us have come across that teacher who just doesn’t seem to like students. Why they are teaching is a mystery. Students will respond to a teacher who they instinctively know likes and cares about them. A teacher who they trust will be on their side. Both Judy and myself are known to be demanding teachers with high expectations and uncompromising standards. Yet in all our years of teaching there would only be a handful of students between us that we have had difficulty working with. Students who did not like us because we could not, no matter how we tried, find anything to like in them.

Teenagers (the focus of High School teachers) are incredible human beings with a fierce loyalty and desire to please anyone who genuinely cares about them. Sadly for some, their teacher may be the only one who does. This is a huge responsibility and privilege. When you stop being delighted in your students it is time to leave the classroom.

 Well that is it for me today. Tomorrow’s offering may be late but it will come. Until then

Teach Well


Links referred to in this post.