Creativity for control freaks

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: And for my next trick...

Can you remember the first time you saw someone juggle? I remember thinking it was the cleverest thing in the world. Then, a few years ago, I watched a teacher juggling in front of his class, holding them spellbound as he talked about gravity, pushes and pulls. Using talents and tricks that amaze your pupils - now I think that is the cleverest thing in the world.

It's the littlest things that can gain pupils' respect and admiration, and sometimes it needs to be novel, if not a little weird. You see it most clearly with their own kind. William can get both legs round the back of his head; he's in. Curtis has the most freakish, stomach-churning double-jointed fingers that allow him to almost tie his own digits in knots. He's an asset prized by his peers, paraded by the class whenever a new adult comes to work with them.

It works the other way round, too. When I think back to my own teachers, it's the little things, the quirks and foibles, that I remember: a teacher's record-beating paper aeroplane, another's ability to play the mouth-organ, yet another doing more "keepie-uppies" than anyone else in the class.

Now I know we are not purely in the entertainment business, but novelty has always been a vital tool in securing pupils' attention and giving them reasons to remember. When my class looks back on their year with me, they may not remember my inventive word-play or the songs sung purely for my own entertainment, but they might just remember me for my ability to make a chicken out of a tea towel.

Pete was aged nine and in my youth group when he taught me this life skill.

He is now married with kids, but I carry on his tradition, teaching the ability to a whole new generation. I couldn't possibly put the complex method into words, but it's very impressive and if I showed you, then you would want to do it yourself immediately, as many pupils and parents have over the years.

Whatever your trick, defect or talent, use it sparingly, but definitely use it. If you haven't got one, find one. My colleague is teaching himself to unicycle. I've found these peculiarities invaluable when moving to a new school and meeting my class for the first time. When you don't know a single pupil or teacher, you want to give them something memorable that they can share with others. Before you know it, a legend is born.

So if you ever bump into Martin Corry, the England Rugby Union captain, ask him if he remembers the nutter he met at a silver wedding anniversary party, who asked him if he would like to see his napkin turned into a chicken. I bet he does.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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