With snow falling in much of the country and the police taking to Facebook ‘to warn youngsters not to throw snowballs’, assistant headteacher Peter Smith says teachers should harness pupils’ enthusiasm for the white stuff. This is from the Guardian…
Picture the scene: 28 year 7s are falling ever nearer to being completely in my grasp. One of the few teaching talents I have, the art of storytelling, is going well. We’re all together, no longer in B1 but transported to Canterbury Cathedral in our minds as my words tell the story of Becket’s gruesome death. They’re gripped by the fear of the monks, of the sounds of the blows of the swords. They’re getting closer to being exactly right where I want them. You can feel the tension. Even the learning support assistant is leaning forward, as my voice gets quieter and the pauses between words grows longer.
And then some bugger shouts: “Sir, it’s snowing!”
And that’s it.
The cathedral vanishes, the anguish on my imaginary monks’ faces are forgotten, Becket’s death is a footnote on the day. Snow-watch has started. My class of 28 year 7s (and a 1,000 other students in the building) now turn into amateur weather experts full of the maxim’s only trotted out at this time of year: “It’s too cold to snow,” or “the clouds look still,” or, indeed my favourite “it’s too wet to settle”. Students spend the rest of the day staring out of the window, urging for more snow, or speculating wildly about whether the head is a ‘shutter’ like the principal up the road. The questions of the day turn into: “Will the buses get in?” “Will their parents keep them off to play in it?” and “Can we go home early?” The classic: “What they should do, sir, is suspend school and all go out, including teachers, onto the field for a snowball fight,” is brought up as a suggestion, usually by the student that, if indeed this happened, the large proportion of the teaching staff, support staff and the ladies in the canteen would all target for a snowball to ‘thank’ them for their contributions this year.
The same hysteria, albeit on a much a smaller scale, is brought about with a wasp. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Get a wasp in a classroom (or even a bluebottle with a suntan) and chaos ensues. “A wasp! It’s a wasp!” Students on chairs wailing, have-a-go heroes rolling up their copies of Geog On to impress Chloe in the corner. Bedlam. Learning goes out of the window.
This column though is not criticising this behaviour. This is in defence of snow and wasps. Or actually, the student reaction to it. Yes, it’s silly, and excitable. Yes, they should know better. It’s something that’s far too over the top and the wild predictions and rash statements unsettle lessons, but occasionally it’s needed. Sometimes it can’t be about plenaries, objectives and targets. About practicing exam technique, or raising the profile of literacy, sometimes it’s funny just to be around young people and watch how they react. It’s why we went into teaching, no day is the same and I bet in the office across the way or the doctors’ surgery they don’t greet snow with a cheer. They tut and moan that it’ll be murder on the way home.
The best teachers I’ve ever worked with don’t lose sight of the fact that young people are exactly that; ‘young’ people, unfinished versions of their future selves that still have a little room for development to go. Yes, adults wouldn’t react like that, but that’s because they are adults, we’ve being sullied by failure, humiliated by being laughed at and seen our predictions falter. Our students haven’t yet. And sometimes at 15, the chance of a snow day feels like the biggest thing in the world. The same as the new album by someone I’ve never heard of, or an impending film is quite literally the most excitingly, bed-wettingly, eye-wateringly, spine-tingling thing in the world in their eyes. So rather than water down this enthusiasm, or pour scorn on it, let’s encourage it. For this makes teaching the best job in the world, because these young charges are open books ready to motivate. I’d much rather try and harness that enthusiasm than deal with cynical adults, some of which populate our staffroom most lunchtimes…