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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 29-Mar-06


Wednesday 29-Mar-06

Inspirational teaching

My wife Eleri teaches English in the local high school and has done so for many years. As parents of growing children, it has handy to have one of us in the same school as the kids, where problems can be learned and handled before things get too bad.

Normally, having a parent in the school is a source of embarrassment for children, but not so for our two. Eleri is very largely liked by her pupils and the most common comment our children hear is 'Your mother's cool!'

There are several secrets to her success. First, she knows that you cannot teach without strong discipline and has a broad arsenal of methods she can deploy. She also, and very importantly, respects and cares for her charges (which contributes strongly to the good discipline she holds). Finally, she uses inspirational teaching methods.

There are two ways to teach: through the head and through the heart. Teaching through the head includes logical explanation and clearly structured lessons and exercises. The goal is first and last to get good results and, done well, does just that. I remember a history teacher who taught this way. We sat quietly, scribbling like mad all lesson as he marched at a measured pace through our heritage. I passed the exam and dumped dowdy history, forever in the past.

Eleri does things differently. Every lesson is a performance, where she conducts the class like a jazz orchestra, exploring the way forward with a known goal in mind. She is not afraid to look silly and will stand on the desk and declaim Shakespeare, if that is what it takes. She sells Macbeth as 'sex and violence' and teaches the kids to swear in Elizabethan language. She engages the whole class in challenging debates and encourages innovative thinking.

It is not surprising that her pupils love her lessons and that she gets regular grateful letters from then at the end of the year.

Kids respect neither 'soft' teachers who try to be their friend nor the disciplinarians who force-feed facts to a silent class. They like teachers who both hold discipline and who bring the subject to life, making it fun and interesting.

Inspirational teaching plays first to the heart. It works on the principle that if learning is fun and interesting, then the learners will develop a strong and lasting interest in the subject. And when this happens, great results will happen as a natural and inevitable progression.

And Eleri and her methods are living proof of this. She gets the requisite learning done, but without the painting-by-numbers rigor of more traditional methods. Her classes may seem chaotic to the untrained eye, but they work. Her pupils leave her both loving Shakespeare and with excellent results. They also are far better able to face the world's problems, having been taught to think, analyze, challenge and experiment.

Inspirational teaching shows students how to think, not just to know. It engages the heart, and hence the head. It lights fires of passion that will continue to fuel themselves. And it creates worthy citizens who will contribute strongly to the nation and the world.

And now, she has started her own blog! Go to to find out more...

Your comments

I have started my temporary teaching career and this blog on inspirational teaching is a good lead for me to start my permanent teaching job. Well said!! I still remember my history teacher in the third grade who enacted "Helen of Troy" and "Prithivraj the warrior". She was a role model for me and I always dreamt of being one like her. Your article has added fuel to my passion fire.

-- Umaraj

Dave replies:
You've got one of the most important job's in the world, Umaraj. Even when it get's difficult (and it will, sometimes), remember those lofty goals. Remember your role model (I bet it wasn't all plain sailing for her too). And when it goes well (and it will), feel good and know that you are changing people for the better and for ever. And keep going back to where you'll find a non-stop stream of ideas from a real professional!

 Well, I think having a parent in the school is a source of embarrassment for children, but not so for our two.

-- What the bleep

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