Reading for pleasure is not merely about the reading for pleasure.

Reading ‘Why Baseball Matters’ by Susan Jacobs recently, I was struck by the writer’s concern for the future of the game as a spectator sport. Apparently attendances at games is down massively, especially in those under twenty-five, who seem to prefer to access their sport in small, smart phone friendly chunks. Major League Baseball is very concerned. It seems that the next generation of sports fan has trouble with the patient build up of play, the potential for low scores and the possibility of a game that could last at least three hours. When you consider that the season consists of over 150 games then you might think they have a point.

More recently I had a fascinating conversation with my Higher class about their fears over upcoming exams. Of course, they felt the pressure from all sides about doing their best. They put pressure on themselves. They seemed too believe that they’d been told that failure wasn’t an option and that scared them. But what concerned them most about the actual exam was the necessity of sitting for three hours in silence (two halves of ninety minutes). To most of them silence was anathema; it didn’t figure anywhere in their lives; they didn’t know how to cope with that level of concentration.

Isn’t this just another reason to say that reading is important? I read Twitter with horror at times when I see that some folk think that expecting young people to read for pleasure is unnecessary and ‘not really our job’’. I can’t fathom that; it doesn’t make sense. Of course we want them to be strong readers but without the experience of sitting for long periods in quiet contemplation with a book, then think of all we are losing. How easily we give up on it, on them. How damaging that may be.

Part of my reasoning for starting every lesson with ten minutes of uninterrupted reading is that young people very often don’t get that quiet anywhere else in their school day. Developing the ability to sit still and concentrate on what they are doing – even if it takes many of them a while to get there – is hugely important for them. So reading fore pleasure is not merely about consuming literature, whatever that might mean to the individual. It is about creating the conditions for thinking and contemplation; it is about respecting the silence of others; it is about so much more than just the reading material.

So don’t give up on younger readers. It seems crazy to suggest that being able to read well is enough, that reading is an optional extra. Think of the benefits of being a lifelong reader that we’ve all had. Think of the benefits they’ll reap later when they have developed the ability to concentrate on a baseball game, a football game, a cricket game, a Shakespeare play without reaching for their phones. There are enough distractions for them. Let’s try and give them something that might help them with that.

Is There a Better Way to Run Parents Evenings?

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve always really enjoyed Parents Evenings. Meeting the adult behind the child is a privilege and, as one who enjoys talking, it’s a real buzz to fly though a whole series of short meetings. But I wonder whether our current model of Parents Evening is the most helpful. Those who can’t make it, don’t want to make it or, as often happens, are too traumatised by their own experience of school to ever think of making it, may be desperate for an alternative model. Can we find a system that works for everyone; or one that improves on what we’ve got?

Currently we seem to have the system that we’ve always had. Parents or carers make appointments and, if we’re running on time, we have five minutes to discuss their child’s whole year in English. They move on to the next subject for another five minutes. And so on. It may be the best way to do things but have we really thought of more helpful alternatives? After all, Dylan William suggests that we should try and stop doing good things in order to do better things. And If there is another way to make these evenings more productive, should we at least discuss them?

What about no year group specific evenings? Consultation evenings could be spaced out throughout the school year and anyone can book up once, whenever they like. So the unfortunate timing of, say, S3 Parents Evening could be less of a problem if that parent can come along next time. The downside? Well, as a teacher, I’d need to prepare to discuss different year group work but I’m not sure that would be a major problem. On the other hand a parent with two kids at your school could possible see both sets of teachers on the same night. It’s not a hugely ridiculous thought.

What about subject specific evenings? You could have a staggered series of evenings where, rather than individual meetings, parents and carers could come up and sit in a classroom for half an hour and experience a short lesson, or explanation of what was happening in their child’s classroom. Just imagine being able to clearly explain your homework or feedback or classroom management approach to a whole group of interested adults. There would be less of a focus on the one-to-one ‘interview’. It would mean a completely different approach but arguably would be far more productive in the long term.

I keep coming back to Andy Day’s line that ‘the greatest tragedy in education is the empty seat at Parents night’. It sticks because that truth should worry all of us. Those we need to see are often the ones who don’t come. It should be incumbent on us to come up with a system which works for everyone. And, yes, perhaps our current system is the best. Perhaps it’s not just because we’ve always done it this way. But we should at least have the conversation.

If I knew back then what I know now…

If I knew back then what I know now…

I wouldn’t worry too much about being liked. If you teach well and are fair and honest, children will respect you as a teacher, perhaps like you. As Paul Dix says in his book, ‘leave your ego at the door.’ While you can develop positive relationships which often last for years, your students are not your friends. Remember why you’re there: you’re their teacher and they need you to teach them. Be kind, be fair, be consistent. Some kids may never like you; most will. That’s life, don’t sweat it. There are bigger things to worry about.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have spent my first years becoming much more evidence-informed. There wasn’t much of a requirement to keep up with the latest research twenty years ago. We all kind of muddled through, often making it up as we went along. They say that we become the teachers we will always be after about five years and I certainly had a few stale years in there. Perhaps some pedagogical research might have helped. Without a doubt it has enhanced my teaching since. My GTCS Professional Update has encouraged me to reflect on my reading. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am now without it.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have created a much more healthy work/ life balance. Trying to be a teaching hero isn’t healthy. This job can overwhelm you, totally engulf your life and will fill every spare moment if you let it. I let it. It exhausted me and all that extra effort didn’t make me any better at my job. Producing resources is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an English teacher but, if you’re not careful, you can over prepare and I lost the buzz of a great unit of work or a creative new way of teaching a text. I wish I had paced myself better. I might have enjoyed it more. Ring-fencing time is essential and your family and friends are more important. Switch off. Completely.

If I knew back then what I know now…

I would have taught more Shakespeare. Having a bad experience at school led me to dread teaching Macbeth for the first time. I’ve no doubt that experience was passed on to pupils in my first few years. Since, I’ve come to love it, along with Othello and I’m just a little bit obsessed with Hamlet. All pupils deserve to be taught the greatest there is and diving in to a great Shakespeare play is the ultimate gift. As part of a wide range of challenging literature we, as English teachers, have the power to affect lives. We shouldn’t waste these opportunities. And I wish I’d been more aware of avoiding my own negative experiences. After all, I became a teacher despite them.

Approaching my twentieth year, I can’t really say I have too many regrets. I love my job, mostly, and can’t think of anything I’d rather do. However, it’s interesting to see new teachers starting out on their own journeys, seemingly much better prepared than I ever was. There are fantastic young people coming in to the profession. We have much to be optimistic about. But we also need to reflect on our own experiences to, perhaps, help them along a bit.