Why I teach

I’ve really enjoyed two unrelated articles this past week. The first, by Tom Bennett, was entitled “Why do you teach?“, and emotively and powerfully outlined the moral imperative for the occupation that I am so passionate about. The second, by Tim Lewis, gave a really insightful account of the rise of “YouTube superstars” as a viable alternative to TV (something I blogged about for my A-Level media students here a few months back following a similar feature on the cover of Wired).

Photo 06-01-2013 12 50 29

Tom Ridgwell, better known as TomSka, one of the young and talented film makers cited in the Tim Lewis piece, was rightly excited by the article:

But his good mood was soon punctured as he scrolled down to the comments section

I read the comments with a sinking heart. It was the normal Guardian comments fare: a tirade of negativity, of “look-how-clever-I-am” cocksure arrogance, of ignorance and bloody-mindedness and sneering cynicism. They are best summed up by this tweet:

The negativity in the comments stream really got my back up. Here was an article in the mainstream national media singing the praises of the creativity, innovation and talent of young people in Britain. Vlogging and online video of the type covered here isn’t aimed at “someone in their mid-OK-late 30s” like Tim Lewis or me, but good on the Guardian for covering it. There is some brilliant content out there and the knee-jerk rejection of it made me furious.

I know first hand what goes into those channels; in my last job I was privileged to teach Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs who now have nearly a quarter of a million subscribers to OMFGItsJackandDean. Jack and Dean kindly came down to my current school in November to speak to GCSE and A-Level Media students about film-making and online media; to say they were inspiring would be an understatement, since most of my GCSE class now have the duo’s autographs on their exercise books and the afternoon spawned the hashtag #ilovemedialessons on Twitter. There are some excellent vloggers in my current school whose videos are genuinely funny, engaging and interesting.

This brought me back to the Tom Bennett article and the subject of an assembly I prepared originally for my Deputy Headship interview but which I have revived recently – why I teach. The assembly uses audio clips of my own children’s language development to illustrate what is, for me, the point of education, which it to ensure that young people leave school:

      1. Having something to say
      2. Being able to say it well

The assembly uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to illustrate how education moves what a child has to say up the pyramid from the baby crying for milk to the teenager grappling with the concepts of morality – higher order thinking, if you will. As teachers we enable young people to understand the world better, giving them the knowledge required to have an opinion and the expertise to back it up. At the same time we provide them with the tools for self-expression which allow them to convey those thoughts in the way that suits them best. I use music, speech, writing, and dance as examples, but the online video being created and uploaded every day by talented young people with something to say and the confidence and skills to say is something to be celebrated, not denigrated.

As a teacher if I can help a young person make sense of the world and their place in it, and help build their skills so they can confidently and creatively express that knowledge, I consider my job well done. And I hope I teach them the value of positive reinforcement, understanding, tolerance and celebration so that the comment streams of the future look different to those of today.

Postscript: here are a few of my favourite YouTube sketches in a handy playlist!

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2 thoughts on “Why I teach

  1. Pingback: First Anniversary – a year of edublogging | Teaching: Leading Learning

  2. Pingback: #PoetryPromise March: What Guys Look For In Girls by Savannah Brown | Teaching: Leading Learning

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