I have just come in after a refreshing and invigorating walk. There’s no rain for a change and little wind. It was a real ‘blow away the cobwebs’ walk. And my mind began to wander as I strolled along. Wandered back to when I was teaching, and wishing I was back in that environment again.
One lesson often comes back into my mind when I become slightly nostalgic for those days. I was teaching an ‘O’ level History class back in the 1980s and we were covering Modern World History which basically meant the main 20th century events. The evening before the Americans had bombed Libya’s capital, I can’t remember the exact reason why, and as I drove into school I couldn’t make up my mind whether to mention the incident or not. It wasn’t relevant to the actual topic we were then studying yet it was of course important and an example of the USA’s foreign policy. In the end I compromised. I decided to mention the raid at the beginning of the lesson then move on to the planned work. Well, I mentioned it and that was the last word I got in until the end of the lesson. Several students immediately attacked the US’s decision and others defended it. I was utterly amazed as the debate took off. The rest of the class were equally bemused and looked like a crowd watching a tennis match as they turned their heads back and forth to follow the ‘rally’ of arguments for and against. Sixty minutes later one of the children asked me for my view of the bombing raid and then the class moved on to an English class where apparently the discussion continued for another hour before the teacher was asked for his view too. The fact he and I had opposite views only added to what had been an extraordinary two hours of education for that group of students.
I have always cited that incident as my best lesson ever. It’s interesting, isn’t it? No real planning, no pile of worksheets, no textbooks, no fancy computer gimmicks (if I’d been teaching today), just the slightest input from me and then massive input from the children. There must be a lesson here for all teachers. An ‘excellent’ lesson doesn’t need hours of preparation. It doesn’t need the teacher to be a superman or woman for sixty minutes. What does it need? The ability to recognise an opportunity, or a question, and to enable the learning situation to develop. I look back now and wonder how many of those odd thirty minute lessons I wasted just letting the children ‘finish off’ work while I took a breather. If only I had instead just thought of a question to pose the class or a challenge to set them which would have raised those children’s learning opportunities so much higher.
So if any teacher or spouse or partner of a teacher happens to read this, please take it on board. You could make your lessons so much better and so much more rewarding for your students, and you, by just thinking rather than churning out the paperwork.
Ask a question, pose an idea or a challenge, and see your students fly.