A bbc Interview with Jonny Walker @jonnywalker_edu

This edition of #bbcInterview is brought to you by Jonny Walker.
Introduce yourself...

- Sure. I'm Jonny Walker. I'm going into my seventh year teaching primary in East London. I'm from Doncaster and have that commonplace combo of bald/beard/massive glasses. I've mostly taught in Key Stage 2, and have been teaching Year 5 this year. I am now an Assistant Head for Y5/6 but will be spending the bulk of my time in class. I'm a SLE for the Primary humanities, and run a geeky annual Geography Bee in Newham.

What made you become a teacher?

         - There were two things really. In my healthier days of adolescence I played a lot of basketball and was a qualified coach at 15; this meant I was able to get a bit of money through teaching/coaching kids at the weekends, and I just really enjoyed the process of explaining something and seeing it put into practice. I had a few teachers who really steered and motivated me during sixth form and when I began to consider teaching, I thought of them and the impact you can have as a teacher through being knowledgeable, approachable, humorous and subversive. Also, I feel I might not function biologically without 13 weeks of holiday a year.

And all teachers do is have holidays...

What is your favourite part of the job?

         - There are so many. I love storytelling with the kids, whether it is sharing great new books, myths and legends or sharing from my own heaving catalogue of gormless anecdotes. I love seeing children become more curious and impassioned about whatever it is that fires them up and, finally, I like having deep conversations with those eccentric young minds who've not yet mastered their own thinking.
I've got a pupil who is so fascinated by the elements that he gets into conversations in his head with the spirit of the earth. It's a privilege to be 'let in' to these thoughts.

What has been best thing you have done at work this year?

         - Without question, the Poetry Retreat. I worked with Adisa, a great poet, to devise a week long retreat for Year 5 kids, and we headed out in November into the the beautiful New Forest with children from four different East London schools. The children surpassed themselves and the quality of their insights, reflections and poetry was sublime. It felt like powerful authentic learning and it has had a lasting impact on the kids who took part. And I fell in a bog, which was memorable.

That sounds amazing, minus the bog-falling. What an experience for your pupils.

What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?

         - Most frustrating thing? The fact that it is impossible to fit in everything that needs to be done into the working week, and that as a consequence, it is so difficult to make time to really support and know the pupils who need more from you, without it having a huge effect on your work life balance. I think the burgeoning mental health issues in primary schools are exacerbated by the way that teachers feel less able to give pupils the time that they need to talk. I think we need to be more steadfast in asserting what truly matters and doing that regardless.

What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?

         - I've been listening to the album 'At Least For Now' by Benjamin Clementine all the time - that would be my top one. I walk to work and often am actively waking myself up en route, so have some quite lairy tunes to keep my eyes open. I love a bit of Aphex Twin, some old school garage or, when I really need to be livened up, Omar Souleyman.

What is the funniest thing a child has ever said/written in your class?

         - When I was walking at the front of the line with one of my Year 3 kids ages ago, he looked up at me quizzically and asked "How come your legs move so slow but you move so fast?"
I felt as though it had some existential significance.

I think he´s on to something there.

What is your guilty pleasure?

         - Cheese. All the cheeses. Despite it being an ailment commonly associated with banqueting medieval monarchs, I managed to give myself gout a few years ago. That was an embarrassing Sick Note to hand in. The worst thing is I am completely undeterred. I just bloody love cheese.

Does gout still happen? Step away from the Roquefort, Mr. Walker.

If you weren´t a teacher, what would you be and why?

         - As long as I didn't need to be a particularly good one, I'd like to say a stand up comedian. I have a rubbery sort of face and a bag of funny anecdotes and I don't think it is too dissimilar from teaching, in some ways. Otherwise, I would love to be a social anthropologist; I studied it at university and would be perfectly content to spend my time analysing and writing about social life and gender norms within yak-herding communities etc.

What are you passionate about (teaching-related or not)?

         - Within education, I am passionate about the importance of curiosity, critical thinking and reflection - our world is feeling pretty doomy at the moment, and it is important that whilst our kids learn about the world as it is, they are able to think deeply about how it could be different, and how they can bring about positive changes.

Outside of it, I am passionate about travel, the history of world religions (though I am staunchly godless), children's literature, good food, left politics and social justice.

If you had to pick one subject/topic to teach on a loop forever, what would it be?

      - There is a multimodal literacy project based on family, framed by 'Mirror' by Jeannie Baker. The project was devised by Jane Bednall, an advisory teacher and one of the most skilled and passionate teachers I've known. All children interview their families and we explore, celebrate and understand the diversity in what family means to us. Children then produce poetry, artwork and drama that relates to their own family experiences and bring it all together in one beautiful showcase piece. Every time, it is a really poignant, inclusive and insightful project, and one that leaves me feeling much more connected with the kids I teach.

What is the most effective resource/technology/app you use in the classroom?

         - Pens.
That would be my honest answer. In addition though, the Plickrs app is phenomenal for whole class rapid fire quizzing and it makes assessment of learning a doddle. The kids love it too, and I highly recommend it.

What is the most effective routine/method/system you use in the classroom?

         - Children are allowed to come up to my classroom fifteen minutes before school officially begins, and this gives us time for proper greetings, a more relaxed and convivial start to the day where they can catch up with each other and - if necessary - it gives the kids the space and time to tell me discretely anything they feel I ought to know (family issues, pastoral issues, worries etc). This also allows us to crack on with learning in a more focused way afterwards, whilst maintaining the space for good open communication.

Is that whole-school or just you?

- We have all been doing it in Year 5 and we've found it really helpful.

If you had to pick 4 people (Twitter or otherwise) to invite to a dinner party who
would it be and why?

- Easy. Danny Dyer, bell hooks, Sarah Silverman and Larry David
It would probably be a horrible group dynamic but interesting to watch it unfold.

That would certainly be eventful.

What is the best and worst advice you have been given as a teacher?

        - The best advice I received was to remember that learning doesn't stop once the kids go home - as teachers we are often a bit ignorant of children's home cultures and in the name of an apparent professionalism, we erect too high a barrier between ourselves and parents. Breaking that barrier, and getting to know parents and the community as people, and even sometimes as friends, has completely changed the way I teach and view my role as an educator.

Worst advice was to use a musical instrument (a xylophone or a cowbell, etc) to get the class's attention and to attain silence. It was ridiculous advice so I brought in a trombone instead and played it like the Lurpak butter guy; suddenly my hand signalling was not so undesirable.

Final Question: What drives you as a teacher?

         - Simply the enjoyment of teaching and of working with fresh ambitious confusing creative young minds. There is nothing that society or the news or pupils could do to shake my belief that education can make a difference, and can lead to a more fulfilled, more productive and more empowered life for pupils. Education isn't preparation for life, it is life itself - this is hugely motivating.

If you could choose one person who you´d love to have the bbc interview treatment, who would it be and why?

- Who do I want to see?
I would love to know more about Di Leedham and to hear about the human behind the egg image. @whatonomy would be an interesting read I'm sure, as always.


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