So I’ve picked up a Y11 class of twenty-two, twenty of whom are boys. The vast majority of their target grades are around the borderline. For various reasons that the school could do little about they didn’t have a history teacher in Y10. Their literacy isn’t too great either.
You’ll not be surprised, I suspect, to read that I was slightly apprehensive. I’d have to work them hard to get the grades but would they be used to this? Would they have the desire? They all picked history a year or so ago and probably, justifiably, feel let down: so would they care? Would I be, to them, just another teacher to pass through, doing a bit but not doing enough whether by design or accident?
A few years ago I had a group of 29 Y11s – a group big enough, you’d think – of which 25 were boys. In an ICT suite. For double periods. It didn’t work. I was too forgiving of poor standards but also too focussed on the exam: I ignored the history, what they’d chosen.
So, I was apprehensive.
This time, this Tuesday, I started hard and soft: I explained my standards but also that I understood how disappointed they must feel; that it wasn’t their fault; that they all chose history and that I wanted them to love it like I did; that I chose to come to this school; that there would be hard work ahead abut that the more they worked the more they’d remember how much they liked history; that I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon.
I’ve not previously experienced a reaction quite so touching. Some looked tearful. Three asked me if I was still going to be teaching them at Christmas. I hadn’t given some Shakesperian speech. I’d just been honest.
And children love honesty. They trust honesty and they love to learn. These boys (and two girls) chose a subject that they once enjoyed and all they wanted was someone else who loved that subject too: someone who’d just talk to them about history and be honest about the work ahead. Oh, it perhaps could have been any history teacher. But this time it was me.
The twenty-three of us have a daunting mountain to climb and not all will make it. But I’ll be damned if we don’t enjoy our history along the way.