Some say teaching is simply a job. Some say it's a vocation. I disagree with both these ideas. For me, teaching is a way of life. You need to live and breathe teaching if you want to do the best for all of your learners. Since becoming a Teacher of History at Aberdare Community School, my life has changed completely and for the better. I used to think that writing one essay per term in university was the height of difficulty, but nothing prepares for you the rollercoaster ride that is your NQT year.
When I began my PGCE in Cardiff Metropolitan University, I had to learn a whole plethora of new terminology. I found it difficult to recognise my AfL from AoL, my differentiation from my tracking and engagement. We simply love acronyms as teachers, don't we? However, as well prepared as I thought I was when I graduated, my first permanent post was a whole new challenge. Now, and this was the scariest part, I was in charge of my own lessons with my own classes. With my own behaviour management strategies and, best of all, no-one scribbling down notes and making me panic that I had missed something vital from my lesson plan and that I would be kicked off my PGCE course for it!
We know that lessons should contain some fundamental elements: starters, engagement, main activities and plenaries (to mention just a few). But what my school has shown me is that teaching is far more than a simple checklist of targets to meet in a lesson. It's a living and fluid engagement of minds and learners. Debating key concepts and allowing those special young minds to grow and develop into our future generation. Showing learners that understanding something is good, but applying and evaluating knowledge is better. If you asked me whether I could make learners understand the Alliance Systems of the First World War using speed dating, or investigate the Ripper Murders using CSI tape and clues, I would have yelled, "You're having a laugh!" However, and this is one bit of advice I would offer to anyone in our profession: always expect the unexpected.
But learning is so much more than simply accumulating facts and figures that can be regurgitated. It's about showing our bright stars of the future that learning is a tool, and experience, to be cherished. It is something that can build a future much better than the past we have come from. As Edmund Burke once said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to nothing." When learners can understand that our past shapes our future, I know that I have given them the most valuable gift of all.
So when they complain that they don't want to study Hitler's racial policies between 1933 and 1939, we should ask them, "what if this happened again?" They cannot simply accept that this happened to people in the past. These people were like us; they lived and loved like us, and when learners can make that seemingly unbridgeable gap between the past and the present, then we are getting somewhere.
As teachers, we don't expect recognition. We don't expect to be thanked for countless hours of marking, the calming of students before their exams, the numerous extra revision sessions to prepare our learners to be their best. Ours is not a profession born out of looking for praise, but discovering that one spark that can engage a learner and make them fly. Higher than they ever imagined they could. Upon receiving my Outstanding Young Teacher Award, I remember the first thought that came into my head: why me? What have I done to deserve this? This award is the greatest honour and accolade I could have dreamed of receiving, and the reality of it has still not hit home yet!
However, at the heart of this award is not just myself and my teaching. I would not have been able to achieve this accolade without something very special: my learners. I say "my" because, as teachers, we feel protective over our classes. Not only because they work hard and do everything we ask of them, but because they help us become better teachers as we travel along their educational journey with them. Any teacher that claims they know everything about the profession has clearly never been corrected by one of their more astute students! Learners love to pick us up on a mistaken date, but that is beauty of learning: we are learning together, in each and every lesson we go through. I may have received the award, but the majority of credit should go to my learners. They make the gloomiest of days that little bit brighter. With their humour, dedication and enthusiasm, they constantly remind me that I simply have the best job in the world.
The long weekends, the limited free time, the countless and never ending amount of marking? They are worth every second that I am able to be in a classroom. To teach learners about History and to have the chance to watch these wonderfully talented learners grow into our future generation. Our school motto is, "Strive, Believe, Achieve." If I can encourage my learners to do those three things, then I will have fulfilled not my job, not my passion, but my goal in life.