Jonathan Lear joined us this week to talk about ‘Guerrilla Teaching’.
Jonathan is a practising teacher and deputy head at an inner-city primary school. His Independent Learning bio reads:
‘Jonathan doesn’t so much teach as create an atmosphere in his classroom that is magical, engaging and exciting and that makes the children desperate to get on and learn. And, as you would expect from a ‘guerrilla teacher’ he doesn’t let anything the government might say or do get in his way when it comes to doing the right thing for his young learners.’
“If we’re not taking the opportunity to dress our children as farm animals, then they’re definitely missing out” – Guerrilla Teaching
What three pieces of advice do you find yourself giving regularly?
Teachers starting out:
A history lecturer at Jonathan’s college used to say, “Catch the child good” and he believes this is really important. Whatever issue a child has there will be times when they are doing what you want them to be doing and it’s your job to notice.
More experienced teachers:
Tim Brighouse said, “Creativity without rigour is crap.” Jonathan is not a fan of creativity which involves just ‘dancing around at the front of the class being an idiot’ while learning nothing – it just wastes everyone’s time.
“We’ve got to be clear about the learning and just use our creativity to enhance that…make it stick, make it memorable.”
Just because something works doesn’t make it educationally desirable. Jonathan believes that when we look back at today from 50 years in the future we may wonder why we were doing some of the things we regard as ‘working’ today. He identifies testing as part of this.
Is it the children’s responsibility to listen to the teacher or the teacher’s responsibility to engage the children?
Jonathan started off teaching believing it was his fault if the children were not engaged but he says his perspective has changed now. He sees the climate and culture of the school as a crucial element in engagement of children. It’s a collective responsibility of every single person in the school, children, teachers, support staff and everyone else. You can’t set the tone yourself as a teacher, you need that whole school ethos to make everything fit together.
Why should I dress a child as a donkey?
Jonathan says that we should only do this if we are prepared to do it ourselves. He is a fan of ‘childishness’ and says that children are growing up too quickly. He thinks there is a danger we treat year 6 children as mini adults and their classrooms sometimes feel like sterile lecture theatres. He found that his year 6 classes would do anything for a sticker or a pair of comedy glasses. It’s all about teachers being willing to laugh at themselves.
How important is planning?
Jonathan thinks planning is essential but he thinks the format is unimportant – it’s the process of planning which makes the difference. A lot of the time we end up writing down meaningless things as part of planning. It’s so much more important, for example, to focus on the specific language we use in any given lesson. Young children can be thrown if we use different language to describe difficult concepts but if we think precisely about what language is the best to use for a particular concept, we won’t end up using vaguely correct language which confuses our classes.
Why bother taking risks if we know what we have always done works?
Jonathan believes this partly has to do with your ideas on what the purpose of education is. If you think it’s all about passing tests and you have found how to do that, you’ll stick with it but if you have an optimistic mindset and you think it’s about creating the environment for children to flourish, we will continue to ask questions and try and improve.
What is Guerrilla Teaching?
Guerrilla teaching is about regaining control. Jonathan has always been a militant and when he thought an imposed change wouldn’t make any difference to the children in his class he just wouldn’t do it. Nothing bad happened. He found this addictive and it became a pattern. Later he spoke to colleagues and found out that they were doing the same. He found he had more power with his own class than he thought he had.
There is a huge amount of additional detail and anecdotes in the episode so do listen right to the end.