From stumbling into teaching to running one of the UK’s most popular edu blogs, That Boy Can Teach author shares some of his best advice and tips – and leaves the rollerblades at home
INTERVIEW: JAKE FORECAST @J_Forecast28
I have always been interested in finding other teachers’ stories to only build my knowledge as better teacher, but to also be inspired by their journeys. After all, teaching is such a rewarding career, but sometimes can be a stressful time for some, especially NQTs.
In my first big interview for HWRK magazine, Aidan Severs – author of the brilliant blog @thatboycanteach– shares his experiences from trainee to teacher and how to explore a wider curriculum whilst offering tips to support the work-life balance.
- Why teaching and where did your passion come from?
- I don’t have a very inspiring story about my route into teaching. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go to Uni, but I went to a grammar school for sixth form and it was the done thing.
- So, who or what inspired you go to get into teaching?
- Family and friends suggested to me that I should do a teaching degree because I was good with children (I am the eldest of five). The head boy at school wrote my UCAS statement, I applied a few places and got interviews for them all – somehow, I managed to get onto a four-year degree, Art with QTS – and thankfully, once there I enjoyed it and found that I wasn’t too bad at this teaching malarkey!
- Was it your passion right away, or when you finally graduated?
- I guess that one was a slow burner. I’m a pretty committed and loyal person, I would never miss a lecture or seminar, so I tend to throw my energies into whatever I’m attempting to do (despite being naturally quite lazy). With teaching, my passion has developed making it not just a job, but also one of my interests.
- I completely agree with you. I feel that people don’t understand how rewarding this profession is, especially taking huge responsibilities within a school. Where did your passion really set off?
- I’d say my passion was properly ignited when I took on an assistant headship at a school in special measures and then it really was, go big or go home!
- How did you come up with the idea for >That Boy Can Teach< and what encouraged you to launch an education blog?
- The name, which I now have a bit of a love/hate relationship with, came from a comment that was made by a local headteacher after he’d seen me teach. He didn’t make the comment to me, but it was passed on.
- How did that positive soundbite encourage you to share your thoughts with other teachers on a similar journey?
- Around that time my wife encouraged me to start a blog in order to respond to, or to provide the antidote to, a lot of negative stories about teaching that were circulating on the internet at the time. The name of my blog used to be >Why I’ve Stayed In Teaching<, but I felt it was a bit off-putting for those who might be struggling with the job.
- Did committing to >That Boy Can Teach< help support you in your career?
- I discovered that writing was a way that I really could get to grips with the things I was thinking about at work, so I carried on doing it. it’s quite a therapeutic thing for me, although I do appreciate that people also want to read what I write!
- How would you encourage children to become ‘Active Readers’?
- There are so many possible answers to this question. I think my most deeply-help belief around this is that children need teachers who are active readers too. Teresa Cremin’s research about this backs that up. If a teacher is knowledgeable about children’s books then the children will benefit.
Teachers will be able to recommend books better, will be able to talk to children about them in more depth and, ultimately, will be a good role model showing that reading really does matter. This is why I read children’s books more than any other books. Although I do try to read other books too, fiction and non-fiction.
- You have recently posted on your blog about exploring the logistics of having a model in for teaching in the wider curriculum and how it is delivered. How would this guide and support teachers who are operating in a different approach?
- The core message of the approach that my current school takes with the wider curriculum is a message that is applicable to all, regardless of approach: the wider curriculum is worth prioritising. Even if you don’t structure or resource it in the same way that we do, it is really important that children get more than a diet of maths and English.
- How does this support the children?
- The other subjects are great opportunities for children to discover what they love doing, what they are good at doing and they open up a whole world of exciting and interesting learning.
I think the other generally applicable message is that you have to work hard at making everything fit in, but that it is really worth it. One of my mottos is, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’! This is something I indefinitely believe in and something that student teachers should believe in too, when they feel like it is impossible
- There is a shortage in males in early years and primary education. How do you think we can resolve this?
- I suspect, although am not an expert, that it’s perhaps to do with traditional ideas of male roles and characteristics. These ideas may have some biological foundation, I’m not sure. For example, women are more often seen as the caring, gentle ones – characteristics that are quite useful when you’re a primary school teacher.
In order for more men to enter primary teaching we probably need to see a shift in society’s stereotypes. I don’t think an ad campaign would really do the trick as the unspoken idea that men don’t really belong in primary schools seems pretty deeply entrenched.
Having said that, I know loads of amazing men working in primary schools so at least there are some who don’t care about gender stereotypes.
- You often write about work-life balance. Can you offer some tips to ensure teachers stay on top of their mental wellbeing?
- Well, I could probably write a book on this, but others already have so thankfully I don’t need to. I think, however, my number on piece of wellbeing advice is to believe that it is possible to have a work-life balance. I see a lot of teachers who have accepted an untruth that teachers work all hours and that’s just how it us.
Unfortunately, we teachers are all such a conscientious bunch that when we so-and-so in the classroom next door staying until ridiculous o’clock it makes us feel like we should too – that’s very catching and it’s a vicious circle then. There can even be a perverse kind of one-upmanship, we don’t need that.
We need teachers trying to do things effectively and efficiently so they can have a life which energises them for their time in the classroom. Plus, teachers with lives are generally the ones who bring a whole lot more character to the classroom. It’s good for everyone.
- What advice would you give student teachers who are now entering into teaching?
- Definitely the previous advice about believing a work-life balance is possible, but I’d temper it with a kind warning that it takes some working at and that training and the NQT can be tough. I’d tell them to see the end goal as being an efficient teacher, rather than the more short-term goal of finishing training or completing the NQT year.
- It can be especially hard for NQTs to notice or realise the natural ‘flow’. When do you think it will come to them?
- It takes a while for that ‘flow’ to come. The flow where you can plan quickly and teach without overly complicated planning or laboriously-produced resources, but it should be what you work towards. When you’ve got that then it becomes even more enjoyable.
Rollerblading and rapping!
- You have atypical background in skateboarding and rap music. Have you ever managed successfully (or unsuccessfully) to bring this passion into the classroom?
- Rollerblading, actually – skateboarding’s deeply uncool cousin. I used to show children videos of me every now and then, which they loved, but I’ve never done a rollerblading club or anything. Imagine the risk assessment on that one! Would love to do it, though.
- Do you still enjoy rollerblading now?
- I’ve only been back into it for the last year and a half and I’d say, even though it doesn’t feature, obviously, in my work, it’s quite important. it is a time when I truly switch off from work and it really does wonders for my mental health. Also, it has taught me lessons in resilience, about getting up again after a fall and not seeing it is a failure, more a step closer to achieving my goal. This has been a helpful metaphor for my leadership of others too.
“As for the rap… it creeps in every now and again. It’s useful for surprising children who think they’re saying something I don’t understand when they speak slang!
- It’s great and quite amusing that teachers understand their generation. How has this been implemented into your school?
- I’ve brought in people for beatboxing workshops, and had my decks in for some DJ lessons. I had some Year 3 children writing and recording raps in the past – you have to be careful with getting kids to rap though, as they’ll often just use rhymes for rhymes’ sake which doesn’t often show their understanding of whatever they’re rapping about.
I think my interests are perhaps less acceptable than others – it must be easier to be a teacher who is into football!
Social media in the classroom
- How important is the role of social media in modern teaching methods, or should it be used strictly as an external resource or soundboard?
- Despite being fairly active on social media myself I am actually a bit of sceptic about technology in the classroom. This definitely stems from the frustration of it rarely ever working. My school use Twitter to share work and school events, which I think can be useful. And I’ve seen some teachers use it really well to contact authors of the books their class are reading. I’ve done a bit of blogging with children in the past too which is a nice way to share work.
- I find Twitter useful to exchange ideas and discuss relevant topics relating in education. How do you see Twitter in terms of an education tool?
- Twitter has real benefits for teachers – you can ask for ideas, advice, get involved in local and national events, and just find other like-minded colleagues to share your ideas with. It definitely can be a great sounding board and I’d totally recommend using it.
You just have to be careful not to compare yourself too much to those teachers who produce amazing displays and whose writers are able to write at degree level – context is everything and social media can be deceptive.