A Personal Experience

Graham Nuthall asserted that what happens to a young person in a classroom is, as in life, different for each person, that there are enormous individual differences in what students learn from the same classroom experiences, that, “Students interpret classroom activities in relation to their own goals, interests, and background knowledge, and they extract the information that is relevant to them.’’ If we accept that learning is a personal journey and is influenced more often than not by inter-personal factors like the level of connection and respect in the classroom, then it is easier to appreciate what a complex, terrifying and/ or deeply fulfilling job teaching can be. As John Stuart Mill put it, ‘The same things which are helps to one person towards cultivation of his higher nature, are hindrances to another…such are the differences among human beings…that unless there is a corresponding diversity in their modes of life, they neither obtain their fair share of happiness, nor grow up to the mental, moral and aesthetic stature of which their nature is capable.’ To make the best kind of connection with another human being requires, as Will Ord, (see Thinking Education Ltd) puts it, wilful attention on our part. In a classroom of 30 pupils this is quite a challenge. The art (because it is most definitely an art when you see it going well) of doing this well is creating an ethos where pupils feel positive connections with their peers as well as with yourself. To make that connection also requires that you the teacher give of yourself and project your personality and enthusiasm into the room. As Rousseau put it in Emile, ‘It is your time, your care, your affection, it is you yourself that must be given.’ This laying bare of yourself, this removal of armour in front of a class of 30 pupils, all the while running the risk that they reject what you project, can be terrifying. A third of all trainees on my PGCE course dropped out, weekly disappearances that left our ranks depleted and those left looking round nervously for who might be next, like some dismal reality television show. Though the reasons given were various, I suspect there were plenty ill-prepared for the personal challenge; for the capacity of a class to (unwittingly) unpick your personality. Teaching is a professional role that requires a most personal level of commitment and it leaves you vulnerable; it is personally risky. I’d like to say a thank you here to our teachers who daily make their way into their classrooms and give so fully of themselves.