It's been six years since I taught, but I still know how to be 'down wid da kids'

22nd February 2013 at 00:00
I have to sing the praises of the Girls into Physics event and the Phys-X Factor. I almost missed teaching

When you read this, it will be six years, almost to the day, since I was last in a classroom that I could call my own. Six years is significant for a secondary type. It means that there is nobody still at school who can say that Mr Steele was their teacher.

Shortly after leaving teaching, I developed a soundbite to describe the way I thought I felt about pupils. "I have the grandfather attitude," I'd say, pausing slightly before the denouement: "Great to have them, great to hand them back."

In truth, I rarely get the chance to see whether this is anything other than smartarsery with words. Though I remain GTCS-registered, working at the sharp end is something that I almost never do.

I sort of taught the other day. The Institute of Physics runs Girls into Physics days and asks a number of bods to populate these with workshops. There I was in an assembly hall next to the brilliant Scottish Space School (get your children to apply - it's life-changing, but that's another story) and some civil engineers. I had laptops running a freeware package called Audacity. It was ideal for my "getting down wid da kids" activity on sound engineering called the Phys-X Factor.

Feel free to snort derisively when I reveal that each session lasted 20 minutes and that I ran six in the day. And yet it was enough to remind me of some of the good things I miss. At times I used to feel like a Scooby Doo teacher (reader's voice: "Not another ******* soundbite"). If it wasn't for these meddling kids, I'd have gotten away with it. But most of the time, I liked the pupils, loved watching them discover things, become skilled, grow up. I'm not going to pretend that the Girls into Physics day was ever going to make me give up my place at Pitreavie Court and return to the classroom, but I did have, well, pangs.

Then I spotted one of the Only Physicists in the Village who had brought her girls along. And TC and Ronna from the IoP. Some other teachers with whom I'd corresponded or had met on courses. Peers who fulfil the "working with people" role in my working life.

My most hated soundbite is that "Secondary teachers teach subjects. Primary teachers teach children." Bzzzt. Wrong! I can only really speak for scientists, but you have to really like children to opt for teaching over lab work. So, six years of kind-of missing pupils, six years of getting to know other people in their place and six years in which I at least look a bit more like a grandfather (who gets down wid da kids).

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, brought along some dad rock to the Phys-X Factor workshop.

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