Strengths

This one is for the good people at http://www.teachsecondary.com who lost a game of poker with me a couple of years back and have to keep putting me in their mag until they’ve cleared their debt. Click the link to subscribe (as it’s actually a pretty damn good read – even the other bits).

PS – I’d just like to point out the fella in the pic at the bottom there isn’t me. 

Not nearly sweaty enough.

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Teaching is a stupidly difficult undertaking, so when you’re doing it, it’s probably a good idea to play to your strengths. There are as many different teaching styles out there as there are teachers so working in a way that’s effective and not crushingly grinding is a pretty good option.  

Having said that, it takes a while to figure out what those strengths are. When you’re first dropped into the classroom (without so much as a fully weaponised exo-suit with shoulder-mounted laser-guided missile) it often takes all your effort not to run screaming out of the gates, let alone start on a journey of self-discovery where you work out what works for you. Usually, your head is swimming with so much differing advice from all quarters about how you should teach – a thousand books, countless opinions (some of them from actual people who’ve been in the classroom nonetheless) – that forging your own style takes time. Years even.

But, eventually, the pieces fall into place. It starts to become apparent what parts of your personality are a benefit when you’re stood in front of a class. There are things you discover that you have a natural affinity for and you utilise them to enhance your teaching. For instance, you have a half decent sense of humour so you put it to work making the kids laugh and in doing so find that they are more willing to try for you. Or you’re uber-organised, so that organisation manifests itself in plotting and recording (in a fabulous colour coded scheme) the progress of your students, and they respond to this as they are confident in where they are and what they need to do to improve. Or you’re a little bit scary, so you scare them into doing what you need them to do.

(That last one’s my personal favourite. That and letting people think that I’ve finished talking and then hitting them with a ‘but’ so I can go on another half an hour or so. They love that.)

Teaching is a crazily gruelling undertaking, so when it becomes apparent that there are things in your arsenal that make it easier, parts of your personality that kids respond to, or a way of working that feels natural and makes your day go that bit easier you should use it.

Hang on…

Wait for it…

BUT

There is a danger that the things we rely upon (our teaching strengths as it were) become something that we depend upon, to the detriment of any other techniques that we could be using, and here’s the big problem with that:

Sometimes the things we depend upon just don’t work.

The funny teacher finds that all of her a-grade material is falling flat with the Y9s and they’re beginning to turn on her. The uber-organiser finds that no matter how many colours he uses, the progress of his ICT group is painfully slow. The scary teacher comes across someone who is scarier. They are 12 years old. And there’s 32 of them.

It’s all well and good to play to your strengths – they are something that make up your own individual style and set you apart from every other teacher out there. But you also need something to fall back on when your strengths turn into anything but. The comedian has to be able to become the badass; the organiser needs to be able to ride the chaos; the fear-monger needs to be able to break into a smile, all situation dependent. It’s not enough to rest on the laurels of our natural attributes (although they’ll get you through most of the time). You’ve got to spend a little time and effort cultivating the things that aren’t part of your repertoire because there will be times when your natural way of working goes down like a ton of bricks that are then picked up by the kids and thrown at you for being rubbish.

Teaching is an insanely punishing undertaking and it’s ok to use the things that you are naturally good at to make you more effective. But every once in awhile, it might be an idea think about trying to improve some of the techniques that wouldn’t be your first choice (or your second). Because it’s unpredictable this teaching lark. So the more back-up, the better.

Thanks for reading.

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One comment

  1. paceni

    There is one teaching style proven to work – particularly for disadvantaged pupils – Direct Instruction. Read all about the results of the longest and most expensive experiment in the history of education – Project Follow Through – just Google. Then ask why the teaching profession singularly ignore a teaching method proven to work.

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