#bbcinterview with @Class_whisperer
- First tell us about yourself.
My name’s Dan, and I’ve recently become a lecturer in primary initial teacher education at Worcester University after 14 years in primary classrooms. I specialise in computing at Worcester and in my previous role dovetailed teaching computing across the whole school in the afternoons with having my own year 4 class in the mornings.
I’m passionate about classroom management and developing pupil-teacher relationships and classroom climates (hence the gawky Twitter name ‘Classroom Whisperer’). I don’t get out much - even before the lockdown - and spend my time with my wife, two young kids and researching for my education doctorate at the University of Birmingham. Oh, and I play football badly and support a team that makes mediocrity an aspiration - Gillingham.
- 1. Why teaching? What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?
To paraphrase teenage Dan, I was sure I could do better than the idiots that taught me.
I had a pretty miserable school experience. I wasn’t a settled boy - we moved house a lot because of my father’s job and I have Tourette’s, albeit a non-verbal sort where thankfully I don’t swear involuntarily. It means I do plenty of facial tics etc. but it’s noticeable and bully-worthy for other kids.
I was always pretty intelligent — I used to get top marks in spelling tests and ask pretty telling questions of my teachers — and in Kent, where I was living at the time, they reinstated the 11+. My parents literally forced me to take it and I was the only one to pass in the fairly-tough-neighbourhood school I was in. Other parents weren’t happy — I was well known for being a behaviour case. Still, I went to grammar school and realised pretty quickly that this particularly antiquated cloisters and latin-hymn-singing, gown-wearing teachers sort of establishment didn’t want kids like me in there. At best, I was a useful poverty case in the ‘aren’t-we-good-for-taking-these-sorts’ mould, but I really wasn’t made to feel welcome by teachers or most pupils alike.
I hated it. I came out with good GCSEs, but in one particular year 11 biology class - taught by the mother of the most preened child in our class - I stormed out thinking ‘I could do a better job than these [collection of adolescent expletives]’. So my career was born. In typical me-fashion, I made sure to do a non-education based degree in case I wanted to back out, but I was committed to making sure other kids got a better end of the deal than I did.
If I hadn’t been a teacher? Nearly happened. After uni, I couldn’t get onto a PGCE despite a decent degree because I set my sights high with the establishments I went for (I’ll never learn), so I chucked a couple of syrupy letters to local teacher training colleges and one practically begged me to do their new KS 2/3 science PGCE, warning that numbers looked low and if there weren’t enough bums on seats, they’d have to pull it. At the time I was working in nPower as a junior data analyst (which I think means data monkey), so I’d probably be a senior data analyst by now, or something as aspirational as that. At least with the OCD linked to my Tourette’s, I’d put the ‘anal’ into ‘analyst’. Thankfully, I got on to the PGCE and the rest is history.
- 2. What advice would you give for newcomers to twitter?
Hmm. Like any social media, it’s built to amplify your sense of self and trap you in an echo-chamber. That means your Twitter experience will largely reflect your own life and sensibilities. If you want great CPD, it’s there and you’ll find it. Indeed, it’ll probably find you. If you want collegiate, teacherly support, it’s there for you. If you want to fight everything that moves, there are always willing participants. You can move out of the patterns you find yourself in, but it takes conscious and sometimes uncomfortable effort because moving out of an echo chamber, also moves you out of your comfort zone.
But it’s hard for newcomers to get involved and engaged - you tweet and it drifts off into the nowhere. Lurking is a wonderful thing to do at first - to get a feel of it all. Then, start replying to Tweets and conversations. Join in with movements like #FFBWednesday or #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites. I’d also recommend deliberately including people in your conversation by @ing people in your tweets for support. You’ll naturally follow and be followed by people like you, so relax, take your time and be swept away in the conversation.
- 3. What are your passions?
In teaching - building relationships and making classrooms positive and successful places to be for all the children in there. I also love computing teaching.
Out of teaching, I love reading and learning stuff, whether it’s something deeply wordy and heady for my doctorate or some floaty fiction. I also love football and - as I alluded to earlier - I’m not particularly good at it. But, I get points for trying, no?
Also, my two little kids and my wife are the filter for everything I do - if it ain’t good for them, it ain’t happening. They’re three very important people and I like them to know they’re dearly loved.
- 4. What has been your favourite lesson ever?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. My favourite lesson taught to me was when my teacher spent 20 minutes screwing up balls of paper and volleying them into the bin. I didn’t get any learning out of it, but it’s the first one that springs to mind. I don’t remember too many positive things about being taught. I do remember the same teacher dispensing advice and most of his nuggets have stuck in my head.
My favourite lesson to teach was probably at Jervoise School. We did a lot of fun stuff, but I remember a lesson where we connected with kids in Spain and had a Spanish lesson before giving them an English lesson. Except, they didn’t really need an English lesson so we just shared stories about our lives and families.
- 5. Who should play you in the film of your life?
After seeing how Neil Baldwin - a fella I knew well at University - was portrayed by Toby Jones in Marvellous, I think Toby'd be the kind of guy to pick out my awkward side.
- 6. What is the best/worst teaching advice you’ve heard?
The best? There are three pieces, all by the same fella, my HT at Jervoise Kevin McCabe.
‘It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.’ If you’ve got a good idea, it’s harder to persuade someone because they can’t see the results. So, just do it - if it works, you can persuade them with positive effects. If it doesn’t, ‘fess up and suck it up - you’ll still not have to battle to persuade someone.
‘You’re more likely to get shot for what you do than what you don’t do.’ If you’re going to do something, do it well because there’ll be lots of critics. And people can only critique what they see. So if it’s not going to be good or suit the purpose, don’t do it. It eliminates a whole load of the busy-work teachers get involved with.
‘Your kids love you because you’re their idiot.’ In a self-deprecating chat with Kevin over a few beers on a European teacher exchange trip, I said that the kids in my class don’t need to act like an idiot because I do it first. Many parents and kids in the local area thought anyone in authority was an idiot (and would tell us!). His reply was not to refute that the kids might think I’m an idiot - God forbid! - but that they love that I’m their idiot and I’m on their side.
The worst? ‘Your kids are behaving so badly because your lesson objectives aren’t right.’ A really poor headteacher really believed this. She was a former ‘super’ head brought out of retirement for a term and was one of four HTs I had in my NQT year where I was put into a year 6 class in a single-form entry school with a record for churning through teachers. We had no DHT all year and my mentor was in a school across town. Some kids were involved in gang stuff and threatened to bring ‘shanks’ in on the last day of school and on my last week working there, the school got slammed by Ofsted. But, it was my objectives that made the difference. Hmmm.
- 7. If you were an inanimate object, what would you be?
A split pin. Destined for great things, but really much happier being buried untouched at the bottom of a teacher's drawer.
- 8. What's your most controversial opinion?
Bin all classroom displays. If they're any good, they draw eyes towards them. That means if you do them well, you've created a direct competitor for your attention and you’ll have to tell kids off for looking at it instead of you. How cruel of you. If they've got stuff on to save your kids having to think too hard in a lesson and we accept that memory is the residue of thought, you’ve robbed kids of a learning opportunity. Indeed, if it’s worth displaying to support other aspects of learning, it’s worth learning in its own right. It costs a fortune and kills the planet one backing paper roll at a time. And let’s say each display takes half an hour per half-term to put together, update and staple dog-eared corners, that’s three hours a year per display. That’s a whole day’s worth of work for two displays. Four displays? Two days worth. And looking at Pinterest and Twitter in September, teachers rarely spend only half-an-hour per display, so it’s reasonable to assume that’s a huge underestimate. And don’t get me started on those dangly ones with clothes lines that you have to duck under and that set alarms off and the ones that block light on the windows. Grrr.
- 9. Which 4 living people would you invite to dinner?
Part of me would like to be that guy who says his wife and kids but I’m getting more than enough quality time with all of them at the moment and I daresay the feeling’s mutual! Another part of me would like to be the guy that says intelligent people like Brian Cox and Mary Beard or sports stars such as Sir Alex or Andy Hessenthaler (Gillingham legend), but quite frankly the idea of having to do small talk and nicey-nicey chit-chat for a whole evening isn’t my idea of fun as inspirational as they are. I’m good at social stuff and can fill a room with my personality but don’t really enjoy it. So, it’d be more like Dinner Date where they can have a ready meal while I read stuff or watch telly.
- 10. What would you like to be remembered for?
That's probably an easy one - I'd like to be remembered for making a difference and connecting with kids like me that are harder to reach.
- Finally….Who would you nominate for an interview?
To nominate someone else, I'd go for @MrTs_NQTs - an inspirational guy with a big heart and great passion for supporting those in their early careers.