This is one of those posts that teachers might take badly. If you think that’s you, go away now.
So, there I was giving a talk loosely entitled ‘Teaching in the Geography Classroom’ to 3rd year undergraduate students in Maynooth. I present this talk every year and broadly speaking, it’s the same talk. I update it with reference to books or articles I’ve read, new insights that land on me (as insights do) and the latest puff from the NCCA (they are prone to puffing) but largely it’s the same talk.
So, half way through the talk I got to a point where I asked students to recall a “passionate teacher they had” which turned into ” can you remember a passionate teacher, you know, who was passionate about teaching and their subject”. I expected that everyone would put up their hand but in fact only about 40% did.
That meant 60% did not recall EVEN ONE teacher who they felt was passionate about their subject or teaching.
Now, this is not a scientific survey. So there’s a problem to begin with. And it could be that some students can not recognise a teacher being passionate about their work even when they see it – they might just think the teacher is being annoying or such like. It could be that some students were out on the very day their teacher was displaying enthusiasm for what they were doing in the classroom. And a percentage didn’t hear the question. But not 60% surely?
I know the Teaching Council expects us to inspire students. From the Code of Professional Conduct:
1. Professional Values and Relationships
1.1. be caring, fair and committed to the best interests of the pupils/students entrusted to their care, and seek to motivate, inspire and celebrate effort and success..
Ok..it only says “seek to…inspire” but it’s still the wrong way around.
Teachers can not be trained to inspire, at least, not without a lot of coaching (another training year anyone?) but even then, it’s a hit-and-miss affair. However, we can be enthusiastic about our subject and we can convey that enthusiasm.
In my (very) humble opinion, there is an obligation on teachers to be passionate about teaching and about the subject they teach. I don’t know that the same principle necessarily applies (however useful) to other work environments but then insurance executives or CRMs tend not to have the same impact on the lives of young individuals as does a teacher.
No one could reasonably expect us to be some sort of Robin Williams hopping-and-a-lepping around the classroom like some ADHD-afflicted frog on speed gribbeting “tear out the page!” and ‘look at how fantastically lively and passionate I am!’. Passionate teaching can be calmly delivered. But an individual’s emotional state is contagious and young people are acutely attuned to picking up every nuance of your voice and body language. If you are bored, uninterested, waiting for the bell, they know it. Yes Luke, they can feel the force – or lack thereof – of your personality.
In short, if you are not passionate about what you are doing, perhaps you should be doing something else. Fair enough, the principal might have landed you with teaching CSPE or Junior Cycle RE for that last single period on a Friday. But even here, at least you have a chance to show pupils that there is value in all knowledge and that not.everything.is.old.and.boring and like ‘whateva’.
You may have realised even before you took up teaching that no one can change the world, not least teachers. But you are wrong. You can change the world and damn it, you have to. But if you still think you can’t, if you are SO convinced you’ve lost your teaching-mojo, find it or get out. Never let your students be one of the 60%.
(yeah, I know…I know…I’m sorry, I know…..)