Friday, 23 September 2011

When does boring not apply?

A train of thought. I’d been at a conference and had been thinking and talking education for a couple of days and it occurred to me that X at one of the schools I’d worked in had probably been a boring English teacher. Then I thought, that department was keen on getting the kids to do most of the talking and of staying much quieter than teachers normally do; in which case ‘boring’ or ‘interesting’ didn’t apply to the teacher; they were relevant only to teachers' ‘lectures’ or extended utterances, of which we intended few to occur.

At that point I became unsure. Surely X and any of his colleagues would respond to what the kids said, and the kids would expect them to? in which case might not be their responses be felt to be interesting or boring? However, I wasn’t sure that a response would indeed always or usually be expected or felt to be appropriate. I thought I remembered seeing lessons I considered successful in which the kids went at it hammer and tongs -- including gentler passages (rubber hammer, sugar tongs) -- and the teacher, quite rightly as it seemed, simply saw to traffic control.

Such lessons could undoubtedly be good and important ones, nor was the teacher any the less entitled to credit, for all that he or she wasn’t interesting, for creating the climate in which something became an argument or discussion and the participants took turns and behaved in a civilised way.

Nevertheless teachers know and understand stuff and have responses and relevance frames that kids don’t. If there isn’t a way in which these attributes are made available to the students -- in a manner that would be judged as interesting -- then only half the job’s getting done.

It’s not easy to judge from my own experience. I favoured listening to the students a lot, but couldn’t resist ‘being interesting’ and sharing my take on the issue. And of all my own teachers who I remember as being good all were either interesting talkers or showed me to do something I valued; none ran the sort of post-1960 classroom in which it was almost all down to the kids -- which I'm glad of since most of my class really were boring (for some reason, all the interesting people I knew were in other classes. Perhaps that was to do with my being in the dusty classics while they were on the livelier modern languages or history sides -- or science, though the teaching there could not be called lively.)

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