'We do have to shine brightly for the students, but shine too brightly and we might burn out'

One vice principal gives his advice on being a guiding light for students without relying too much on flashbulb lessons

Aidan Severs

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Are you forever striving to teach flashbulb lessons? The ones that wow the students and leave any observers dazzled?

They're usually the ones you spend longer than average preparing for and that often aren't representative of your everyday way of teaching. They're brilliant and the kids love them, but if they miss the mark, it was a lot of effort for very little return.

And they can leave you – and your students – with the sense that all of your other lessons aren't good enough.  You can get into a spiral of trying to replicate the whizzes and bangs more often than you can possibly manage.  

Not anti-fun

There's nothing wrong with lessons like these to grab children's attention. These kinds of lessons are a joy to be in. But they are not necessary on a daily basis.

The best lessons are probably the ones that are consistent with each other, where a clear sequence of teaching and learning is prioritised and where outcome is valued over input.

That might not get everyone excited, but it will get everyone learning. Just as important, it is manageable for a teacher. 

Will yours be a flash in the pan career? Will you work so hard at preparing and teaching flashy lesson after flashy lesson that you burn yourself out?

We do have to shine brightly for the students, but shine too brightly and we might burn out.

Sadly, this is prevalent. If teaching is a job we value, we should be doing what it takes to preserve the life of our careers – our own and those of our colleagues and friends.

Tending to human needs

"The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long," said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Wick-trimming and flame-tending are not things we have to think about in the age of electricity but metaphorically speaking they remain crucial to our survival.

Just because the light in your living room will burn all night, and your laptop screen will never grow dim, it doesn't mean that you should continue working. To keep our home fires burning we need to tend to our own human needs to avoid the moment where the fire in our bellies dwindles into cold ashes.

Aidan Severs is an assistant vice principal at a primary school in the North of England. He blogs at ThatBoyCanTeach and tweets @thatboycanteach

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Aidan Severs

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