Real teaching

Recently, a teaching friend of mine lamented the fact that she missed “real teaching” and it made me sad. I too, mourn the loss of “real teaching”. It’s the reason I left the classroom. So what do we mean by real teaching? Real teaching happens when teachers have creative and professional freedom to design a curriculum and lessons based around children’s interests and needs. Yet in today’s system, many teachers feel that they are nothing more than puppets or robots spitting out prescriptive lessons in a standardised curriculum. I’ve had young teachers tell me that they wouldn’t know what to teach without this curriculum. Teaching is an art form not a science and I fear we are losing that art form.
Let me tell you a real story to illustrate real teaching.
In the last 2 weeks of my teaching career I decided to give my students a real gift, some real teaching. I had finished teaching them the prescribed lessons and had finished administering the prescribed assessment. I had finished boring them with topics neither they nor I were interested in. I had finished trying to teach them age inappropriate concepts which made their eyes glaze over and made me feel guilty. I decided to go back to what I knew worked, real teaching.
Each morning we started with a 10 minute topic of the day. I chose topics that I was passionate about and invited them to throw topics into the ring as well. We discussed things like shark culling and shark nets (the boys loved that one), free range eggs and caged eggs, refugees. The 10 minutes sometimes went for much longer depending on the children’s interest. The children shared some very considered and thoughtful opinions and there was some lively debate. One parent reported that their dinner time conversations had become very informative.
One day I decided to talk about palm oil. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about this topic. We talked about deforestation and the effects on the animals as well as the fact that trans fats are very bad for our health. I showed them the app that I had on my phone which scans labels and tells you whether the food item contains palm oil and whether it comes from a certified or non-certified source.
After morning tea the children were all lined up at the door waiting for me with lunch wrappers imploring me to scan them to see if what they had eaten contained palm oil and whether the source was ok. They sat patiently as I scanned them all and answered their questions. I knew I was onto something. Seems my passion had been contagious! So I jumped on their enthusiasm and we got out the laptops. My instructions were simple. Find 5 facts about palm oil that you could use to educate others about the topic. “Is it for assessment?” chirped one boy. “Do we have to write in sentences?” asked another. After letting them know that it wasn’t for assessment and I didn’t care how they recorded their notes off they went. My classroom became a hive of activity. Exclamations of horror could be heard as they read the information and were shocked by their findings.
Then the snowball began. “Can we make our 5 facts into a power point?” I think when I replied “Sure” that they were shocked because usually there was no time in the day to accommodate the requests of the children. Classrooms are always time poor these days. I was shocked at who had asked the question. It was a boy who was not very interested in anything other than soccer and for whom schoolwork seemed an arduous chore. And then others chimed in.
“Well it’s not much point doing that unless we show them to someone.”
“I know let’s ask if we can present them on assembly.”
“Let’s ask if we can present them to other classes.”
The ideas were flowing thick and fast and my heart was singing! The most poignant exclamation across the classroom was, “Do you realise that we are making work for ourselves and no one is complaining?!”
The power points were great but it didn’t end there. They decided to send emails to all the teachers inviting them to view the presentations but that still wasn’t the end. Some girls found it incredulous that Australian companies were using uncertified sources of palm oil in their products. They wanted to write to these companies and let them know that what they were doing was wrong (some great persuasive text happened in those letters). A child, who was very creative but not into writing, made a persuasive poster about palm oil.
Around the school the children’s classroom visits and talks were a resounding success.
In that one topic we had covered English, Geography, Science, Health and Maths. From real teaching comes real learning. These children took control of their own learning and ran with it. They owned it. And more to the point, they had fun doing it!
These last 2 weeks brought me such joy. I was so glad to have the opportunity to demonstrate that I knew how to be a good teacher, how to engage children and incite a love of learning. Those last 2 weeks also invoked in me such sorrow because I knew that if I could be trusted to teach like that then I wouldn’t be walking away from the profession that I once loved.

Kathy Margolis


2 thoughts on “Real teaching

  1. Mrs Margolis, you were my teacher 25 years ago when I was in grade 2 and I can still remember some of the activities you did with my class all these years later! You were my favourite teacher because you made learning so much fun – I can still remember a yodelling song you taught us and a creative story that we made up as a whole class on the spur of the moment one day! An example of ‘real learning’ considering it stuck with me all this time! I also became a teacher and can totally relate to everything you’ve written in this article. It is such a shame that the system has changed over the years and amazing teachers like you are no longer encouraged to inspire a love of learning for students in your own authentic way. I feel lucky to have been one of your students in the good old days!


  2. Thank you so much Emily. Your comments are really touching. Teaching was so joyous back then, so much fun to be had. Back then I had the freedom to incorporate into the curriculum what I was passionate about along with what the children were interested in. That is what leads to true engagement and “real learning.” I just couldn’t continue to be a part of a system that has got so much so wrong.


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