I was talking to one of the Pastoral Team on my way to work about what it’s important for pupils to learn during their time in school.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and come up with the following things (among others) that I have tried to teach pupils besides Maths:
- That most things they do are a choice. This is important because pupils says “I have to…” or “I had to…” all the time. This is normally trying to explain away why they can’t or didn’t do what they have been asked to. Not liking the alternatives is not the same as having to do something.
- Their choices have consequences.
- Anyone who refuses to accept the consequences of their choices is an ass. and not to be trusted.
- They should think about what they read and what they are told before accepting it as true or valid.
- They should question (at proper times in a polite way)
- That if someone cannot or will not answer their questions then that persons argument is suspect.
Towards the end of my time in one of my schools I heard one of my brighter pupils say the following to a member of SLT:
“I don’t have to go to the after school class. You can’t make me go to the after school class and if it’s a choice between doing what you say or detention I choose detention.”
I was amazed by this. I was amazed partly because a pupil was standing up to an angry, shouty man in that way. I was amazed because for the first time I realised that my constant bashing on about choices and consequences for 3 years had registered to a degree. That I had taught them an important life lesson about choices. I also realised that this might have made my pupils much more annoying to teach for some teachers.
This was confirmed by one of my colleagues who said in accusatory tone “You’ve made your Year 10 class just like you.”
“Awe inspiring, intelligent, good-looking heroes?” I asked.
“Fucking annoying” they replied.
You see this other teacher had scheduled their after school class for the same day as mine and told the pupils it was compulsory. i never tell my classes revision classes are compulsory. Why would I? If they don’t want to be there I’d rather they didn’t come.
Every week I told my class that they didn’t have to come to my revision class if they didn’t want to. That actually they didn’t HAVE to go to either. They had choices:
- Come to after school maths classes. This would have improve their maths grade and get them a bollocking, a detention and a phone call home from the other teacher.
- Go to the other revision class. This would improve their grade in the other subject and result in ongoing under achievement in Maths.
- Go to neither revision class.
I told them that if they felt that avoiding detention and/or improving their grades in another subject was more important than improving their maths grade then they should be honest about it and not come out with nonsense like “I had to …”
So began the legendary “Wednesday rant” which every Wednesday went something like “You didn’t have to go to Mrs X. There’s very little in life you have to do besides breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping. You made a choice. We all make choices. I don’t have to be here. I could CHOOSE to stay in bed all day. I don’t make that choice. Why? Because that choice would have consequences for me and for my family that I don’t want. Your CHOICES mean your maths grade isn’t what it should be. What are you going to do about it besides whining about what you “had to do”?”
When my pupils discovered I was leaving I was surprised to discover they had a pretty good idea why.
They asked me if it was because of a certain line manager harassing me all the time (I was observed a staggering amount). I said “Of course not.” (It was in part but not for the reasons they thought)
They asked me if it was because of certain colleagues and the way they had behaved towards me (They were partly right). I said “Of course not”
They asked me if teaching the way I do had “got me into trouble” and if that was why I was leaving. I gave them my speech about choices and consequences one last time. I choose to teach the way I do. I chose to lead the way I do. I chose not to bend and refused to break. I believed it is in the best interests of my pupils to do so. That choice has had consequences I choose to live with.
I’d like to think that I taught them a thing or two besides Maths through my rants and lectures but also through my example.