There are two great quotes I’d like to share with you. The first one is from Robert John Meehan, who says:
“Teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning”
Carl W Buechner also once said:
“They may forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel”
Learners will forget some individual ‘facts‘ they learn in school. Not everything can be retained all of the time, and I know that this is still the case in adulthood (believe me – if it isn’t written down then it stands no chance of being committed to memory!). But, children will never forget a good teacher because they remember how they made them feel about learning. Seemingly, our memory of feelings and emotion is greater than our memory of words.
This brings me to the story I wanted to share with you to illustrate this point. My daughter started secondary school this September, which is a massive milestone in her young life. I never worried about her settling in to her new school and she has made some new friends as well as keeping her close circle of friends from primary school. However, secondary school brings a very different level of responsibility – she had never previously had to worry about which room she needs to be in, which books she needs to take or whether she’s completed the homework ahead of the next lesson.
Her favourite subject in primary school was Maths. It was also mine at the same age, and I was always on cloud nine when her teachers reported that she was top of her class for Maths at parent’s evenings.
However, when she started in Secondary school her attitude towards maths changed suddenly. She described it as ‘boring‘ and rolled her eyes when she talked about it. So what had changed? Well, two very simple things.
Firstly, I have surmised that her new maths teacher made little attempt to bond with the learners or get to know much about them. It is apparent that a large part of her dislike with the subject was due to the fact that the teacher ‘shouted‘, ‘got angry quickly‘ and was ‘confusing‘. He, in my daughter’s own words, managed to make her favourite subject boring.
The second thing he did was actually something he didn’t do. As I’ve already said, my daughter was a high-achiever in Maths. Part of her boredom came from the fact that he failed to challenge her in any way. She was asked to complete work at a level she had been exceeding a full academic year previously. For example, she was asked to identify that the angle at 90 degrees is called a ‘right angle’. In primary school she had been measuring and calculating angles of far more complex polygons. She was one of the first to complete the work, and then asked to ‘help others’ until the end of every single lesson.
With boredom came disinterest, a lack of motivation and an attitude that ‘maths is rubbish‘. How dangerous is that attitude at the age of 11?
Now, as luck with have it she was moved to a new class after half term and the difference is like night and day. She LOVES maths again. Her new teacher is the exact opposite of everything the last teacher was – he makes a few jokes without being a stand up comic, doesn’t shout yet the learners listen to him, has the respect of the learners because he shows respect back. Maybe most importantly though, he has quickly determined each learner’s ability and sets an appropriate level of challenge in each lesson. Now she once again has the spark in her eye when she talks about maths. This week, she actually came home excited for the next day so she could learn the next equation in the list. In fact, she did not stop talking about it all evening, she waxed lyrical for about six hours about how great her new maths class is. As a parent, how could I ask for more than that?
As a future teacher, isn’t this the goal?
Now, please don’t think I’m berating the previous teacher. I don’t think for a second any teacher goes into work planning to do a bad job, and I’m absolutely sure he was trying his best. Maybe he is inexperienced? Maybe he is just finding his feet in a new school? I don’t know, but what I do know is it highlights two important points:
a) how we make learners feel has a huge impact on how much they get from our lessons. unmotivated learners are a dangerous element in a classroom.
b) children want to be challenged and stretched in order to feel like they have achieved something. My daughter wasn’t happy because she ‘wasn’t learning anything new’. Challenge them, make them think. Plan for the highest achievers just as much as the lowest.
As I reflect on my teaching practice for the future, I know these are two points that will be very much at the front of my mind.
Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!