Have you ever produced a new teaching resource even though you have something that would do well enough in the file? Or conversely faced your class with that nagging guilt that you’ve been lazy and stuck with old materials? On the latter occasions my conviction fades as I deliver the lesson. I’ve even apologised to my class the odd time for my naff resource. When I know I have worked hard I have the confident conviction that I am a good teacher. Why? Because I work hard for my classes to give them my best.
I’m feeling smug because I’ve worked hard this summer, preparing a whole new module. I’ve been reading up on Elizabeth I ready to teach a new A2 coursework module in September. It has been twelve years since I taught the Early Modern period and one area I had to brush up on was the causes of religious tension. Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists all disagreed about the role of ‘works’ and whether good works were necessary to get to heaven. I’m beginning to think teachers are all Calvinists…
Followers of John Calvin believed that God decides in advance who will get to heaven (double predestination), it isn’t based on merit. You’d think that would lead to Calvinists being quite relaxed about their behaviour on earth as they have no control over their final destination – but not a bit of it. As ‘the elect’ were likely, among their other attributes, to be hard working, you could demonstrate that you were one of those chosen for heaven (or elect) by working hard in your life on earth.
I’m convinced we teachers try to demonstrate, not that we are chosen for salvation, but that we are good teachers, by working hard and making new stuff. We need to prove this to ourselves as much to others. I’m not saying we should all be lazy but, for example, we are very attached to the idea of innovation as a good. This is despite having the accumulated wisdom of teachers through the ages to date for us to draw upon. The current subject specific description of outstanding history teaching actually says, ‘lessons are exciting and often innovative’. To be outstanding you must be innovative…
Also as much as some teachers complain about needless bureaucracy there is also a tendency to feel virtuous about completing it.
I once had a department member that never made his own resources. If his colleagues didn’t provide him with a shiny new resource he would, without shame, use whatever pitiful half scrawled sheet was to hand. We were justifiably narked with him but he taught well and got good results. I often wonder whether, instead of making something new when faced with apparently imperfect resources, I used the preparation time to totally master the content, to really work through the mechanics of the lesson, to anticipate pupil responses and misconceptions and how I will build on those, I might be making better use of my time.
I return to work in the sure knowledge I am a good teacher because I have worked hard this summer and prepared something new. Imagine how exposed with my classes and guilty I would feel if I had been lazy and done no work over a summer. However, this new module is supplementary. There are good reasons to introduce it so I have no regrets but we weren’t forced to start teaching Elizabeth I this year. In other words I realised that I could have done NO WORK AT ALL this summer, carried on with a well resourced current module and all my pupils would have been just as well taught. It is just that I would FEEL different about myself as a teacher.
Innovations, new resources and fresh lesson plans are often a distraction and I wonder how often we can teach just as well or better without them.