The six principles of effective schoolmastering

Tom Sherrington wrote a great post the other day entitled 'The Principles of Effective Teaching'. As ever it hit the nail on the head. Classroom teachers young and old should read it. Nonetheless it got me thinking that in all the schools I've worked in so far following those principles to the letter still wouldn't quite be enough...

In each of these schools there has been a very clear expectation that teachers should contribute to school life in a way that extends beyond the confines of their classroom. In this sense they might better be characterized as schoolmasters*, not teachers. So here are my six principles of good schoolmastering:

  1. Enjoy the company of children outside the confines of the classroom in both informal and formal situations. Pupils should like being with you, and you with them. Your relationship with them should be relaxed and convivial without there ever being any doubt as to your status as the responsible adult.
  2. Be prepared to write off term-time as leaving little time for much outside. Your compensation will come in long holidays - which you should guard jealously - but whilst school is in session you must be able to accept, without resentment, that there will be little in the way of work-life balance. The best schoolmasters cope with this state of affairs by avoiding a sharp distinction between work and leisure and embracing schoolmastering as a lifestyle choice.
  3. Develop an excellent memory for names and faces. The ability to remember pupils long-departed, to remember their friends, and vignettes from their time at school, will mark you out as someone who cares and takes an interest.
  4. Stick around for a while. There is a brand of thrusting go-getters who seem to think it shameful to stay in any one school for more than three years. Some of them make rapid progress up the career ladder, but they have missed something by being in such a rush, and so have their pupils. The connection you get with pupils by being alongside them as they grow up, by getting to know their parents and by taking an interest in their backgrounds gives you and them a priceless connection.
  5. Be really good at something other than your main teaching subject and willing to communicate your interest to pupils. It really doesn't matter what it is but a deep and well developed hinterland will encourage them to seek the same. 'All work and no play...'
  6. Be able to switch off. Schoolmastering, done properly, is tiring - knackering even. When the time comes you need to ability to get away from it all for a while, to visit friends outside the profession, to travel, relax, party and recharge.
*I use the male version of the term here, and hope this doesn't annoy female readers. Everything here, of course, applies equally to schoolmistresses.

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