Lesson 51 on Learning that things matter.
I learnt my craft from all sorts of strange sources. One epiphany moment was watching a documentary on the New York Police hostage squad in the 1970s. What illuminated my practise ever after was their concentrated focus on the use of language. They explained why. The words and tone they used made the difference between life and death.
I soaked up all they said avidly. I treasured the phrases they used to calm things down. I wrote down all the words and phrases I could remember good teachers using effectively. (My old German teacher had a store of them. “Sir, it’s not fair!” “Whoever told you it would be?”)
From then on I updated my list religiously.
Much later, when involved in teacher training, if I came across a plan which began “Settle the class”, I would immediately question “But how? What will you say? What words will you use? Think of them! Write them down!”
Another epiphany was watching a teacher who had been a stockman on a cattle farm in a past life. He just knew how to calmly manage large animals through his stance and voice. His skills transferred magnificently to a class of lumbering adolescents. It was awe inspiring. From him I learnt that where and how you stand or move or sit or look matters.
And in class, when you want people to learn, when it affects their life chances, you need to get it right.
The other place where I gained a valuable new perspective was my daughter’s Saturday morning dance classes. The classes were huge, yet I saw pupils of my acquaintance, who fidgeted and griped in school, standing quietly and attentively during instruction, practising over and over again to get something right, taking pride in their work. The older teenagers who instructed the little ones were merciless – there was no question but that they would get the steps or the routine perfect.
And the children enjoyed it! There was a waiting list! They lived for the termly productions!
After that I took no prisoners in my groups. Everybody had to do their best, whatever that was, and I would do my best to help them.
Heaven help anyone who said “Awww, Miss! It’s almost right!”
“Is almost right good enough when you’re landing Concorde?” I would shriek at Airport Comprehensive, as the class cast their collective eyes resignedly towards the ceiling.
“Is almost right good enough when you’re in Casualty with an overdose?” I would storm at Mandy’s school.
“Is almost right good enough for the brakes on your motor bike?” I growled at my very first Opportunity Group.
The Shades of my own stern Scottish teachers rose up behind me in approval as I spoke.
“Is almost right good enough when…?” was one of the top ten phrases in my personal list.