You’re not still teaching that are you?

This has become something of a recurring refrain over my teaching career, and it always – always – frustrates me.

Nobody ever says it about Science: “Oh, you’re not still teaching solids, liquids and gases, are you?”. Or music: “Oh, you’re not still teaching standard notation, are you?” And yet for some reason it seems to abound in other areas – especially English.(Even maths seemed to go through a phase where the standard basics were frowned upon!) But such decisions are often distinctly personal.

The first time I read Holes by Louis Sachar, I couldn’t wait to get planning for it, and was desperate to start teaching it. Now, having taught it too many times for my own liking, I’m tired of it. I suspect that this will be my last year of tackling it because I’ve lost my love for it. But for my class this year, it was their first time of approaching it. It was fresh for them. The only reason to abandon it is that my waning love for it risks coming through in the teaching.

But that won’t stop somebody somewhere from saying “Oh, but you’re not still teaching Holes, are you?”

It happens too often.

Tonight I’ve seen the same said of both The Highwayman and the animation The Piano. Now for sure they’ve both had more than their fair share of glory, but there was a reason why they were chosen in the first place. I’m all in favour of people moving away from them, finding better alternatives, mixing things up a bit. But they don’t cease to be excellent texts just because they’ve been done before. Every Year 5 child who comes to them does so for the first time.

I’ve heard the same said before of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch at KS1 -as though somehow the fact that a topic has worked brilliantly in the past should be ignored simply because a consultant is over-familiar with it.

Of course, there are reasons to ditch texts. Sometimes they become outdated. Sometimes they cease to match the curriculum. Sometimes the ability of the children demands more stretch. Sometimes something much better comes along. Sometimes you’re just sick of them.

I’ve never cared for Street Child even though it’s wildly popular. I’ve always found Morpurgo’s work irritating. But if others find them thrilling, and get great results with their classes, then so be it. Who am I to prevent them teaching them?

As somebody also responded on Twitter this evening: the best “hook” is the teacher. If a teacher feels passionately about a poem, a book, or a topic, then it can be a great vehicle for the teaching that surrounds it. And if we make them all ditch those popular classics merely because they’re popular, then you’d better have a damned good replacement lined up to offer them!

5 thoughts on “You’re not still teaching that are you?

  1. inthenhs 31 October 2016 at 6:43 am Reply

    Great blog! I think teacher passion for a text is so important. If you’re lucky enough to work in a school where you have autonomy over choice of texts, it’s a joy. I also like to work my favourite texts in different ways with different year groups. Not Now Bernard can be reading for year 1s and philosophy for year 5s. Mind you, the classics do sometimes date. ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ is a lovely idea, but so rooted in its time.

  2. Faye 31 October 2016 at 8:13 am Reply

    Thank you, nice reminder that although we might get bored, the children have yet to experience it, and like you said the texts were chosen for a reason.

  3. markoblique 31 October 2016 at 9:16 am Reply

    Oh, I so agree with this. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Some things do date: ‘The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler’ is one I used to love to use, but eventually finished with. As you point out, if something is getting stale for you, then it will be stale for the children. I hated it when pressure made me abandon something that worked well. (Now I’ve retired, this still makes me cross.)

  4. learnmesummat 31 October 2016 at 5:30 pm Reply

    Totally agree, you need to be passionate about the book you chose. I have studied books that have been planned by a colleague but because I wasn’t passionate about the text I soon realised the children picked up on this and the quality of work was never as good.

    I used to find it hard to keep up with newer children’s fiction out there. It’s easier now I have my own children and the amount of books we read together. Feel I’m more in touch with what children are interested in.

  5. Mal 1 November 2016 at 7:24 pm Reply

    I think it’s more common to hear, “You’re not still teaching are you?”

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