June 30, 2017 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
I recently spoke at the ASE South-East regional conference in Guildford. The theme of the conference was ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ and looked back at the report entitled ‘Science education in schools: maintaining curiosity‘ published by OFSTED in 2013. The report discussed, amongst other things, how to maintain pupils’ interest in science. In my workshop I decided to look at this issue with slightly different lens and focus on how to maintain the engagement and curiosity of the teachers that we work with. I will summarise the workshop in three blog posts , with this post, part 1, focusing on the purpose of the workshop.
Maintaining the curiosity of our pupils is incredibly important, however when I was asked to speak at the ASE conference I began to wonder how often do we actually think about maintaining our own curiosity and that of the staff we lead or work with?
I have been a teacher for 10 years now. I knew I wanted to go in to teaching before I studied my undergraduate degree and despite a few bumps along the way, I couldn’t now imagine doing anything else. It has always amazed me though the attitude towards teaching as a profession in the UK. When I would discuss my post-university plans with my friends and tell them I was going to train as a teacher I was often met with, ‘Can you not think of anything else to do?’ That attitude has only slightly changed throughout my career. Whenever people hear now what I do, I am either met with a sympathetic slant of the head, a ‘I don’t know how anyone does that job’, or a comment about how wonderful the holidays must be! When you think about the issues that exist within the profession, you wonder how anyone stays longer than a few terms.
The issues we face vary in scale. Over the last 5-6 years we have been working in an exceedingly shifting environment. We have had a new KS3 curriculum, new specifications for A Level and for GCSE. All of these changes have happened at the same time and have resulted in significant increases in workload. There can also be smaller scale everyday issues that distract us from our core purpose…
Problems like duties. At certain times of the year an outside duty may be a welcome relief from the confines of a day in the classroom. However, for some teachers an indoor, wet break duty on a 5 period day can be soul-destroying.
Then there are those periods of time where, I suppose like any job, you can feel, rightly or wrongly, that your line-managers are just showing you the finger! Being deliberately obstructive or difficult and preventing you from doing what you have walked in to that building to do on that day.
Then there are the times where you have spent hours planning what you think is an engaging, challenging, ‘outstanding’ lesson for your pupils and your pupils spend the lesson either literally or metaphorically doing this to you…
Then, just when you think you have caught a break in the day as you go past those school gates, you get home and your partner is annoyed with you because you stayed late that day to mark the 300 books you had to catch up with and your kids are either literally or metaphorically doing this to you because they are upset at how little they see you during the week because of your wonderful job.
Then there comes a glorious point in the year we like to call the INSET day. A chance to sit down with your colleagues and contemplate how things are going. Make plans for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, more often than not, the day turns out to be nothing like that and instead of the reflective, collaborative experience you were hoping for you are listening to a consultant who taught for 2 years two decades ago persuade everyone that the learning bicycle is the new way to plan your lessons!
Lets imagine that somehow you have navigated that minefield of issues and you are still incredibly excited about the teaching profession, you may choose to spend some of your own time on your professional development. You may decide to join all of those other creative, innovative teachers and join Twitter. However, after a few weeks of reading tweets you realise you have bigger issues than break duty.
You realise you have so many new decisions to make. Are you going to be a cool progressive teacher, who believes strongly in the power of letting students find out for themselves?
Are you going to be a boring old traditionalist teacher who dislikes children and believes the best way to teach is through rote learning and blind obedience of pupils?
And why are teachers on Twitter arguing about Michaela?
In all seriousness, the word ‘crisis’ has been used frequently in the mainstream media to describe recruitment and retention in the teaching profession. The governments own School Workforce Census published last year highlighted that teachers in Secondary and Special schools were most unhappy with their jobs. Overall wastage out of the profession in 2015 rose to more than 10%.
All of that paints quite a depressing picture and this really is not the purpose of this post. I think it is important when discussing the issues surrounding the teaching profession and looking at how to keep teachers engaged and curious, hat we take some time to think about why we started in the profession in the first place. Why do we love being Science teachers?
I was lucky enough to attend the NSTA conference in Nashville in 2016 (read about it here) and at the conference they had a fantastic wall display that people filled with answers to the question posed above. Some of my favourite responses are pictured below…
For me however, the reason below struck home the most…
It is this love of learning that we not only need to develop in our students, but as leaders we need to ensure that we maintain a love of learning within our staff as well. We must ensure that we develop an environment that is intellectually stimulating for our teachers to ensure we retain our best teachers and also to ensure we can maintain high standards of teaching and learning within our faculties.
The next two blog posts that I will publish over the coming weeks will focus on strategies that can be used to ensure we maintain curiosity within our staff.