It's about inspiration, not drudgery

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Full marks for The TES Scotland two weeks ago for the full coverage given to "Kids call time on boring teachers". This headline succinctly sums up the results of a research project carried out with pupils, teachers and student teachers as part of the Scottish Executive's "assessment for learning" programme.

Scotland Plus further underlined the importance of inspirational teachers by asking whether the vital ingredient, whatever it is, can be bottled and dispensed to turn mediocre teachers into excellent teachers. Finally, our editor, in his leader, stated that kids just want to have fun and to learn.

It's good, of course, to have the black and white results of a survey to validate what inspiring teachers instinctively know anyway. Most of us do appreciate, and our own schooldays may bear testimony to the fact, that teachers who motivate can completely transform a child's experience of school. When a secondary school pupil, I was lucky enough to encounter two such individuals - interestingly, one of these teachers was at the beginning of her career while the other one was heading towards retirement.

My Higher English teacher was perceived to be ancient - I now realise that she would have been in her 50s. Her pupils thought she was the cat's pyjamas because she drove a nifty little sports car, her hair was dyed purple and, most important, she encouraged us to question the system and rebel. Thanks to her, I have never lost that desire to challenge.

What I will never forget was her uninhibited human kindness to her charges and the way she used English literature to teach us about life itself. She set alight our creativities by her enthusiasm and she gave us social skills by modelling these capacities herself.

Interestingly, my other inspiring teacher - a religious education practitioner - was only eight years older than myself and has remained a close friend, with whom I still discuss teaching and learning strategies.

Dynamic, musical and acutely aware, in advance of research not yet published these many years ago, that learning should be "fun and interesting", she was innovative in providing a stimulating and varied programme of activity in her classroom.

Possibly her greatest asset was her ability to empathise with her pupils, to display that crucial but all too rare emotional intelligence which sets aside those teachers who connect with their pupils on a human level rather than via a clinical teacher-pupil relationship.

What both these motivating individuals had in common was the ability to provide the pupils with a bridge from the no man's land of school to the real world. Without that charisma, school remains a sterile environment of facts and figures - but, with the magic, you well, chill man, in the sense that you click as human beings and you have the body language to prove it.

That's the key, isn't it? You have got to be able to look at your pupils and see a light in their eyes, a vision which somehow you have triggered.

Hmmm, you murmur, you've been reading too much transactional analysis stuff and you'll be perusing Yellow Pages for some back-to-basics strategies for me. Reading about inspiring teachers might send you into a red mist of rage as you protest that modern kids just want to be entertained.

Don't jump on my head though. I do know that teaching is a demanding job.

All the more reason then to ask why some teachers can turn a subject into a deadly drudgery, while others can take the same subject and imbue it with a passion which will never leave your heart. If it wasn't for the two teachers who inspired me, I wouldn't be teaching now.

And, crucially, in my positive moments I reflect that my relationships with some of my pupils have made the world a more inspiring place - not just for them but for me.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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