Why I became a teacher: teaching chemistry is my career and my hobby

Jim Baker went into teaching because he enjoyed passing on his knowledge. After 42 years, despite how much the profession has changed, he’s not ready to switch off the bunsen burner yet. Here’s an extract from the Guardian…

I started teaching in 1970. I’ve been teaching for so long that in 2008 one lad told me I had taught his grandad. I remembered him too; I’ve taught thousands of pupils but I’m usually able to remember their names and faces.

When I started teaching, all pupils would be taught chemistry by a chemistry graduate, physics by a physics graduate and biology by a biology graduate. The problem now is that everyone has to do science and there aren’t enough specialists to teach them. There are people teaching chemistry who don’t know much about the subject.

In my travels I have seen trainee teachers who have done A-levels in psychology and photography and they are becoming secondary science teachers. But children won’t be inspired if their teachers are only one step ahead of them in knowledge of the subject.

I retired from full-time work in August 2008 after teaching in the same school, Lincoln Christ’s hospital School, for 38 years. I was head of chemistry and deputy head of science in charge of behaviour management when I retired.

People say you should be moving every two years to get progression, aiming I suppose to get out of the classroom. But I went into teaching because I liked being with people and passing on my knowledge: that’s why I became a classroom teacher and that’s why I stayed one.

You might think I’d get fed up in the same school as a classroom teacher, but I didn’t because every class and child is different. I’ve found children learn when it’s fun and they want to be there so I became a bit of an entertainer in the classroom – it’s no good having the subject knowledge if you can’t explain it. For me teaching is all about relationships. If you can’t build relationships with students, and they don’t want to be in your class, no matter what else you do, it’s wasted.

In 1997 I got to the final 13 in the Salter’s Chemistry Teacher of the Year award. Three years after that one of my lessons was judged by Ofsted to be unsatisfactory. It was probably the worst day of my life. My head couldn’t believe it and he asked for another lesson to be observed. The head of science pointed out the high A-level results of my students, but the Ofsted inspector gave the second lesson a satisfactory. She criticised me for doing forces with my students because they are supposed to learn that in primary school. I was so happy that my head and head of department stood by me but it was a horrible, horrible day.

The great thing about being semi-retired now is that I can say what I like. After 42 years teaching I think that the key to being a good teacher has to be developing strong relationships with the children. I also know my subject inside out: I almost daren’t say this but I don’t plan lessons. I just go in and know what I need to teach. Some of the trainees tell me they’ve been advised not to smile until Christmas, but I ask them what sort of people do you want to be around? People that are fun and have a good time – the children are no different. If you walk in with a smile, they will feel positive about their learning. Trouble is, there’s so much pressure on teachers now that they’re tired when they walk into the classroom…

More, including access to some of Jim’s teaching resources, at: Teaching chemistry is my career and my hobby

See his website www.jimbakersonlinelearning.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @teknojimmy.

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