Who am I? Prog vs. Trad

I’ve never considered myself having much of an identity beyond ‘English Teacher’, meaning ‘person who teaches English’. I never felt as though I had, or warranted any other labels. However, since joining EduTwitter, I’ve noticed that battle-lines have been drawn: Trad vs Prog.

Who am I? Prog vs. Trad
Photo by Ana Municio / Unsplash

There’s this bit in Les Miserables (which is the only musical apart from Little Shop of Horrors I’ve got any time for, the former because I was in it as Javert in Year 10 and the latter for lots of reasons) when Jean Valjean, about to escape the clutches of the law for good, has an identity crisis, asking ‘Who Am I?’ This is a convoluted way of beginning a post about my identity as a teacher.

I’ve never considered myself having much of an identity beyond ‘English Teacher’, meaning ‘person who teaches English’. I never felt as though I had, or warranted any other labels. However, since joining EduTwitter, I’ve noticed that battle-lines have been drawn: Trad vs Prog. They’re not awfully fond of each other. Having had a few chats about it on Twitter, apparently I’m Trad.

When I was a trainee, I was very lucky. I taught in two really good schools, the second of which employed – and still employ – me. I met and worked with some excellent teachers, including a couple of mavericks who took me under their wings somewhat and were forgiving of my faults. I was horrendously organised, and I didn’t ‘get’ a lot of the received wisdom at the time: such as needing to differentiate by resource, All, Most, Some success criteria, ‘letting the kids do more’ and ‘talking less’. I found the ‘talking less’ bit hard, both for reasons of personality (meet me and see) and because I wasn’t sure how else I was supposed to get what was in my head to the students. Any way other than telling them seemed unnecessarily indirect.

In the early stages of my training, all the trainees were given the task of making and delivering a starter to the other trainees. We then had to comment on each one. I remember a Science trainee doing one in which she used a Britain’s Got Talent video to explain the Science behind something. It was engaging. But then the course director – a Science teacher himself – piped up.

She’d got the Science wrong.

He - and everyone else – told her not to worry. It was still a good starter and it didn’t matter that she got the Science wrong. I said that it did matter. I said that getting the Science right was her job and that was the most important thing. They all shouted at me.

And I was, as I’ve said, chaos itself when it came to organisation. I’d mask it by making fun of it, making it part of my identity, being self-effacing about the whole thing. I’d go over to the two English trainees with immaculate folders and torment them with mine, which amounted to some paper in a bag. But the disorganisation didn’t stop there. I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t listen; none of this was to do with arrogance – it just didn’t happen. My mind would wander. This meant, too, that I’d be up all night planning lessons, with no real idea about how to do it. I knew what I wanted to teach; my problem was, all I could write on the lesson plan proforma was that. When it came to coming up with activities I came up blank. I just wanted to tell them what they needed to know, get them to talk about it, and then get them to write it down.

So, I gradually built my own idea of what good teaching was, and I tried to test it as best as I can. I put subject knowledge first. I was obsessed with questioning for a bit. Now it’s modelling. It all comes back to, for me, getting the students to be able to know and do English really well. So I’ll try things out and try to be honest about whether they worked or whether they were rubbish. Here are some things I’ve done that I don’t think are / were rubbish:

  • Delivered a lecture
  • Started with a big question
  • Started a lesson with a poem that was incomplete in some way
  • Granular model of component essay skills under the visualiser
  • Taught students how to take proper notes
  • Discussion linked to an image (painting / photo)
  • Written, short answer questions

I want things to be simple. Anything that takes too much time to set up I won’t remember. I want to be able to keep teaching if the power goes out. The approaches above don’t just work or don’t work. It’s all in the daily honing of the craft; it’s all in the minutiae. I don’t know if I’m Trad or Prog, and I don’t care. To be honest, a lot of pedagogy bores me, not because it has no merit, but because it doesn’t interest me all that much. I do read about it – and I do and have learned from it – but I prefer reading about English. That’s the thing that matters.

And that’s what drove – and drives – my lessons. It’s my subject. I get very excited about it. Because I love it.

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