How to... teach subjects that you don't like yourself

Part of what makes primary teaching interesting is the variety of subjects you teach − until, that is, you have to pretend to be enthusiastic about your most despised subject. One primary teacher gives her advice on how to fake it until you make it.

Kate Townshend

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In much the same way that a switch flips at 9am on a Monday to transform me from a misanthropic zombie with a coffee addiction into a cheerful, bright-eyed educator of young minds, so too do I sometimes have to flip a switch at the start of PE… or DT… or Art… or, well, any subject involving hacksaws or going outside on a drizzly November afternoon.

Because, just like list-making, extreme sports or cats, these subjects are fundamentally not my thing. Every primary school teacher is likely to find themselves in a similar position with at least one or two subjects.

So how do you teach when you’re so far beyond your comfort zone that you might as well be sitting on a chair made of bees?

  1. Role models

    As every teacher who has ever accompanied their class on an outdoor activity trip and found themselves bungee jumping despite their crippling fear of heights knows, what the children see on the outside is more important than what you feel on the inside. Model the ‘have a go’ attitude when it matters − and you can always spend the evening moaning to your nearest and dearest about the psychological trauma of having to pretend to be into Old English folk songs during music.
  2. Find the fun

    In a grand tradition of literary heroines, I like to imagine myself into a Pollyanna frame of mind when faced with my most disliked subjects: with a bit of creative thinking they can become almost fun. For instance, I don’t like DT, but lots of the children love it, and there’s a joy in seeing them find their niche. And I definitely like the fact that the marking burden is often lighter in these subjects.
  3. It’s OK to be honest

    Sometimes, it can be empowering to be honest about your own limitations. My class and I refer to those occasions where I have to draw pictures on the whiteboard as ‘Miss Townshend specials’ – usually because stick men rule the day. If I need greater clarity, I’ll ask one of my more artistic children to take on the task instead – team work in action!
  4. Variety and spice

    It’s true that one of the best things about primary education is its variety. And it’s also true that I most appreciate reading my class a well-loved book as they listen with rapt attention when it comes straight after a freezing PE session or a noisy, messy hour of Art. Without the contrast, perhaps I would enjoy my favourite lessons less.
  5. Once a learner…

    One of the most important things we can do as teachers, ironically, is demonstrate to the children that we are still learners too. If I didn’t work in a primary school, I would probably never have bothered to learn to use a vice, or considered the importance of stretching prior to a run, or a thousand other things that, on balance, probably do make me a better-rounded human being – whether I enjoy them or not.

Kate Townshend has been teaching in schools in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire for more than 10 years. She tweets as @_KateTownshend

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