Us and them

As much as I go on about dance, in reality most of my time and energy goes on my job. Teaching, for most people, is more than just a job. I am lucky that I get to do something where I can be creative and pursue my interests. I pour a lot of myself into my work.

So about half way through the summer holidays I started looking forward to going back to school.

I started imagining how I would set up my classroom. I have to be in there a lot, so I want it to be a nice environment. I want students to feel both calm and stimulated when they come in, to feel it’s a place where they can ask questions and explore and experiment.

I bought some games, and potted a few plants. My preferred teaching space would be in a forest (or maybe the Alhambra in Spain), so I like to bring nature inside.

Not my photo; not my classroom. But I like this idea!


The set up also reflects my teaching style. One of the catch phrases in educational circles at the moment is ‘guide on the side’ (as opposed to ‘sage on the stage’). This is how I like to see myself, so there’s no teacher’s desk at the front of the room, and no rows. 

I worked on my program and scoured the internet for good video resources, and eventually resorted to making a couple of my own. This is fun but takes ages, and you have to accept that you’re going to look and sound like an idiot.

There’s a cool app called Google forms which enables you to create a survey and then it presents the results for you in colourful graphs and charts, so you feel like a proper researcher, even though there are many variables to be considered. I created a survey for my students on how they like to learn. I am planning on encouraging a lot more independent learning this year, and I wanted to see how they felt about that.

My school wants us to be experimental, and in some ways I am fortunate. Since no-one cares too much about my subject, I have a freedom that teachers of the ‘important’ subjects do not.

But after a while my excitement changed to apprehension. I started to think about what really happens in the classroom, and how, in spite of my dreaming, planning, and efforts, some students throw it all back in my face. All I am is ‘authority’, stopping them from ‘having fun’ (or replying immediately to a very important message on their phone), trying to make them do stuff they couldn’t care less about at that point in their lives.

I vividly recalled an incident from the previous year, where, with my voice trembling and the tears micromillimeters from spilling over, I just made it to the end of the lesson. As the students hurried out, I heard the leader of the pack saying scornfully, “Did you see her face? She looked like she was gonna cry!” “I know,” one of the sycophants screeched back, laughing shrilly. They drifted off to go and inflict their thoughtless cruelty on another poor victim. ‘Cry, or kill you,’ I thought to myself grimly. I went through the speech I made to myself over and over again each day: don’t take it personally, they’re just showing off, they’ll be lovely human beings in a few years time, don’t let them get to you, they’re dealing with all kinds of issues, etc., etc.

I’d tried, I really had. The odds were against me from the start: teaching a foreign language, in a system that was, in reality, set up for failure. I mean, who really thinks it will work? Sticking a bunch of diverse, overstimulated kids, at their most awkward stage of development, in a room with one person to somehow show them the value of doing the hard yards to get to that place where a light goes on, and they experience the joy of doing something well for it’s own sake?

It is a system where students, and teachers, often stop seeing each other as fellow human beings, and things only go downhill from that point. I think my sad little tale illustrates that.

We have created this situation as a society. No one likes it, yet we all accept it and think it’s normal.

Anyway, after these discouraging thoughts, I picked myself up again, and the new school year has begun. My classroom looks great (although I had an SSO hint that the unconventional arrangement might not be ideal. I won’t repeat what I said in my head to her!), no behaviour problems yet, and the results are in:

The responses so far to one of the survey questions I gave my students. 

Looks like guide on the side is the right way forward!


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