I often see Facebook posts from trainee teachers and NQTs asking how to make particular subjects “exciting”, or looking for a hook to draw them in.
While I agree it’s important that children enjoy learning, I also think it’s important to remember that being exciting is not necessarily the same as being engaging. As the teacher in the classroom, we are the main ingredient in engaging the children and we are more than just the sum of the activities we choose.
I always remember one particular lesson I taught as a trainee teacher. It was Y9 French, and the topic was boring. I racked my brains trying to think of a way to spice it up, to make it more exciting. I couldn’t come up with anything and nor could my mentor. This was before Facebook was as big as it is now, so I couldn’t ask around in any of the teaching groups to get advice from hundreds of teachers around the country. I knew I was doomed. If I thought this topic was boring, there was no way I was going to convince 30 Year 9s otherwise and I was dreading the lesson. The closer it got, the more I was dreading it.
Eventually the time of the lesson arrived. With a sinking feeling in my heart I walked to the door to greet my class. Plastering a smile on my face, I uttered my first words: “Come in. Settle down quickly. I can’t wait to get started – I’ve been looking forward to today’s lesson all week.”
The change in the class was immediately visible. They picked up their heads, slumped shoulders perked up and they sat ready to listen to see what was going to be so good about this lesson. It actually turned into one of the best lessons I taught during my training year. The pupils were engaged. They worked hard and asked pertinent questions. They learnt something new and because they were so willing to commit to the learning process, we also cleared up a couple of misconceptions they already had. My mentor was delighted and I got a really good grading for that lesson. It was then I realised that it was my attitude that made all the difference.
Many years later I was given the topic of electricity to teach in science to year four. It was a topic I’d never taught before, and it was one I’d never really enjoyed learning about at school, so I really wasn’t looking forward to it. So I did what I always do in such situations. I smiled brightly and told them how much fun we were going to have learning about electricity. This became one of my (and their) favourite subjects that year. The children worked so hard and enjoyed it so much that we finished everything on the curriculum ahead of time. We were then able to explore other areas which they chose themselves: how electricity is generated and how it travels from the power station to people’s homes, how a battery works, how the ISS gets its power, and even how a Faraday cage works.
I didn’t have a snazzy title for the topic. I didn’t have a great “hook”. I didn’t even have lots of expensive and exciting resources. What I did have was the ability to fake it until it became true. My advice now to NQTs and trainee teachers is, “Don’t stress about hooks and titles and worrying about whether or not they will find it exciting. Instead, just tell them how much fun it’s going to be – and then teach like you really mean it!