This is the ninth part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.
When was a time this year when you felt joyful and/or inspired about the work that you do?
This one is going to sound quite strange. You are probably expecting this to be a story of a student who was struggling, then succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Or a story of a perfect lesson. It isn’t.
I had a top-set year 7 class for biology. They LOVED learning science, and loved biology because it was about them. They were the type of class would ask endless questions because they genuinely wanted to know more.
We eventually came up to the topic of reproduction, one which is usually fraught with embarrassment and complications. Fellow science teachers will understand what I mean there!
We introduced the topic one lesson, talking about reproduction as distinct from the act of sex and what it means in a biological sense. We were to go on and learn over the next few weeks about cell division, specialisation of sperm and egg cells, reproductive structures, hormone changes, etc. We should have progressed as normal, with much giggling and awkward questions, but only questions when the students felt comfortable and confident enough to admit they wanted to learn more. Sometimes this can take a couple of lessons, or a couple of weeks, or we never reach that stage at all.
To my immense surprise, we come in the next lesson with one of the boys saying he had gone home and researched it all because it was terribly fascinating and he wanted to know more about it because he knows a lot of people have problems having babies and he thinks he wants to maybe be a reproductive doctor and help people so he wants to learn as much about it as possible, but not the sex stuff, like just all of the actual biology stuff *takes a breath*. He was so genuinely interested in all of the biology, he had actually done a whole heap of research out of biology text books and websites. I was a bit concerned at first that this was about the sex, but it truly wasn’t, he really was just super interested in the biology of reproduction.
We spent the lesson with me introducing sections of content, and him finishing it off for me. He often extended beyond what I would have taught (because the curriculum didn’t call for it), and the rest of the class listened to him as closely as they would have listened to me, if not more so. They hung on his every word, and trusted him completely, because he had done similar things in the past and the teachers always backed him up. He ended up answering most of the questions, simply because he had the knowledge and because I let him do so.
I know it made the rest of the class more comfortable with the topic because one of their own was so interested. It allowed them all to be interested, and they could get help from a classmate instead of asking the teacher (which, as we all know, isn’t a desirable thing all the time).
This was my most joyful and inspiring time – a student had found a topic he was genuinely interested in, so he went and taught himself everything he could understand about it, then shared it willingly and openly with the rest of the class. The rest of the class accepted and embraced his interested, feeding off it to learn for themselves a topic that can be very uncomfortable for all involved. I was forced to the outside of the class as they learnt off each other, only looking to me for confirmation when they were a bit unsure.
It was true engagement, and I was so damn proud of them all.