I’m glad I’m not an iguana. Several weeks ago, I saw a group of hatchlings emerge blinking into the Galápagos sun only to discover that their first act of existence was to outrun an army of racer snakes intent on turning them into lunch.
I was gripped. Every episode of BBC’s Planet Earth II is incredible, not least because it has made me look forward to Sunday evenings (never a high point for teachers).
But the thing that fascinates me the most isn’t the wildlife in action: it’s the fact someone filmed it. Someone got to this far-flung uninhabited part of the planet and not only survive but also capture the moment.
It is similar in teaching. No matter how fascinating the content, the thing I always notice first when watching good teachers is the teaching itself.
Sadly, it’s not something I often get to do. If you are a part-time classroom teacher with no leadership role, you’re not exactly inundated with offers to leave your own class and hang out at the back of someone else’s. Which is a great shame, as watching others teach is one of my favourite spectator sports.
'Teaching pre-schoolers is like herding cats'
Luckily, there’s one great teacher I get to watch weekly. His name is Andy and he is attempting to teach our smallest child some cricketing skills (Mr Brighouse’s idea – he refuses to see my sporting genes as an insurmountable obstacle). The first session was my favourite. Ten very small boys raced around a sports hall largely unaware they were taking part in organised activity. As the session started that saying “teaching pre-schoolers is like herding cats” sprang to mind.
Having led them in a warm-up, Andy set up the first game – an obstacle race. He modelled it twice before calling up two boys to the start. “Do you know what you have to do?” he asked. They nodded happily.
“Great. Ready, steady, GO!” he shouted, at which point one child sat down and the other ran in the wrong direction.
Andy was completely unfazed. In fact, at no point did even a flicker of frustration cross his face. At times when I would have been banging my head against the wall at the sheer futility of it all, he simply regrouped and tried a new tack.
Amazingly, in just a few weeks, you could see progress. Children who had formerly only used a bat as a lightsaber were now holding it correctly. Even our child could do something approximate to throwing a ball, as opposed to just trying to put it down his trousers.
I’d like to say that watching Andy has improved my teaching but, in truth, it hasn’t. I couldn’t do what he does. I’m just happy I get to watch because when teaching is as good as this, it is, as the song says, “a kind of magic”.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands