This is the first of two articles I have written for Tim Handley’s #pgcetips project. The project involved crowdsourcing a book providing tips and advice for PGCE students, and can be downloaded for free from his site. Lots of the book was straightforward, practical advice for trainees, so I opted to write articles that were a bit more provocative to encourage them to think about the bigger ideas behind their teaching…
Despite having a National Curriculum in the UK, specifying what all pupils need to be taught, young people still have a huge variety of experiences of learning. Some of this is down to resources, some of it is down to the classes they end up in, but much of it is about the different styles adopted by the vast array of people in the teaching profession.
So what is teaching style and how do you develop your own? I would argue that your teaching style is basically how you relate what you are doing to your general philosophy of why you are doing the job in the first place. If you are a secondary teacher with a wayward past who took up teaching teenagers so they would have a chance not to repeat your mistakes, that will influence a certain style. If you are a lover of academia who wants to share this thirst for knowledge in a certain subject to those students who think similarly you will have a different style. If you are a caring person who wants to support young children from difficult backgrounds, this is going to influence another very different style of teaching.
All of these people will have huge strengths as a result of their reasons for teaching, but they will all potentially have huge gaps in their ability to cater for all their students; knowing your style is about knowing what makes you tick, and how you can leverage or adjust that to provide the best opportunities for your students.
Some people may think they couldn’t possibly come up with a philosophy of teaching until they have been teaching for years, let alone before they have set foot in a class. Naturally you don’t feel like an expert yet, but you don’t have to be trained to engage with the things that are important because education is one of the most universal experiences in our society. Your philosophy will be tested, and will be adapted, but if you have one in the first place you can consciously look at where you fit in the profession and what you might need to develop.
When you are planning an activity for your students, think at every stage ‘Why am I doing it like this?’. If you believe you should be producing independent learners, then ask yourself if setting highly structured worksheets is going to do that. If you believe students should be confident communicators, then there may be better ways to achieve that than insisting that they have to individually record something in their books for every lesson. If you keep asking yourself this question, and relating it to your bigger ideas about what education should be, then you will develop a style all your own, a style which reflects your strengths as a person.
Just because you have one style does not mean that you cannot learn from and be influenced by people of different styles. In fact it is essential, as I mentioned earlier all styles will have weaknesses that don’t best cater for all your different students.
Personally I teach from the direction of being very child led, focused on stages of development and listening to what directions pupils want to take. However, I am always really impressed when I observe lessons by very assertive, objective driven teachers. I admire the skills they use keep a class so focused on a specific thing until it is mastered, and I admire the techniques they use to organise and manage a large number of children and keep them on task. I will never be like that, it doesn’t fit into my philosophy to be so didactic, but I certainly benefit from learning those skills to drive a whole class forward in the most efficient way possible. There are also some children who learn best through structure, and if I don’t develop the potential to do that into my style then I am potentially failing those particular children.
So think about it, what do you believe in? If you can think consciously about it and relate what you plan back to it, you can start to develop your own style of teaching. There is much to learn from others, but thinking about your own style will set you apart and make sure you are making the most of your strengths, consciously addressing your weaker areas, and providing the students you teach with what you really believe are the best educational chances.