Love it or lose it

15th May 2015 at 01:00

Don't you just love armchair educationalists? The notorious aphorism "those who can't, teach" should instead be "those who can't, tell teachers how to teach".

I'm amazed how frequently I'm told what to do by people whose most profound experience of education was being a pupil and whose closest recent encounter with the classroom was attending a conference on education.

That's not to say that we teachers have a better right to express an opinion necessarily, but it does indicate how long and hard you should listen to someone about certain issues. As I am fond of saying, never take behaviour management advice from someone who couldn't run a difficult class - just walk away, laughing.

I'm sometimes asked to appear on daytime television and radio to talk about the controversy du jour, only for the poor researcher to be confused when I say I can't do it because I'm, duh, teaching. Next time you see someone being interviewed about education on the lunchtime news, ask yourselves, "How come they're not covered in glue and glitter, or out lassoing truants?" The answer is usually that they're armchair generals who could just as easily be soapboxing about breastfeeding in public.

Trust people who love what they teach; there's a good chance they might be doing what they teach, too. When I went to school, I loved art, partly because my art teachers were not only teachers but artists. One of them, Dawson Murray, even achieved a degree of local prominence. But all of them smelled of paint and ink and clay (and fags and poverty and ennui). I remember an English teacher who used to take part in beatnik poetry nights and PE teachers who spent every second of the weekend playing sport on boggy Glaswegian fields.

Can we always say that about our subjects? Do you still teach what you love? And, the final test of that claim, do you still do it? It's not such a strange question. Would you want to be taught to drive by someone who last started a car with a crank? And if your response is "You can be a teacher without current practice", then ask yourself what are we? Delivery mechanisms for a syllabus set in stone? Or are we experts, teaching? A canyon lies between the two.

This quality is the gas in your tank. Write - or for God's sake read - if you teach words. Puzzle over worm trails, rant at wonky science in the press, stay up all night to see comets. Hurdle the benches in your local park and bound up steps if you care about athletics. Hunt down anime or Dogme films and hold marathons with the curtains drawn if media is your game. It will be a bulwark when you are weary; your compass; a love letter to why you teach, which you can get out and read whenever you like - or whenever life buries you under school-shaped lemons.

When you love what you teach you also feel less inclined to be fobbed off with other subjects, or to accept innovation without scrutiny. Because you care. And because you know what you're talking about.

Tom Bennett is a secondary teacher in East London and director of the ResearchED conference

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