What the military can teach teachers

The recent announcement about the extension and beefing up of the 'Troops to Teachers' programme has galvanised me into writing this post.
I'm not a military man per se (though those who know me will get that my rather stiff walk leads many to assume that I do have some sort of military background!)
I have however had a long and very rewarding association with various branches of the military. I was a CCF cadet at school and, inspired by the formidable John Ing, flirted for some time with the idea of joining the Royal Marines. But, having failed to get a Royal Marines scholarship whilst still at school (sour grapes), I turned my attention to the Irish Guards and throughout most of my time at university had every intention of signing up as soon as I'd finished my studies. I joined the 3rd (TA) Bn Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters whilst I was at Nottingham and had earnt my commission by the time my degree came to an end. The three weeks I spent at Sandhurst on the weekend warriors' version of the commissioning course were as formative as any other 21 day period I can recall having had before or since.
In the end, the imminent arrival of my (now 16 year old) daughter persuaded me that signing for a bachelor life of mess high-jinx and months abroad would be irredeemably selfish. I enrolled on the Nottingham PGCE instead and the rest, as they say, is history.
But I've kept close connections with the military. For a short while I commanded a TA Platoon in Canley, Coventry until my Saturday school commitments made continuing to do so unworkable. And I have now clocked up over 16 years' continuous service as a CCF officer. During that time I've seen a lot of military-style instruction, both good and bad. Here though are some of the good bits:
Mnemonics - or more accurately acrostic phrases - are bread and butter in the military. Soldiers seem to have them for everything, and with good reason - they are a marvellous little devise for remembering key facts. Teachers don't use them enough. A while ago I devised several for remembering various geological eras, but I should devise more; so should we all.
The 3 part lesson Sandhurst style. Someone told me many years ago that military trainers are taught: 'Tell then what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you've just told them'. Marvellously simple, and it works. If you watch a skilful expositor they almost always do it - repetition is a key aspect of deep internalisation.
Commando spirit. I've whinged elsewhere about jobsworths; and we've all encountered pupils who lack a bit of backbone. They could do worse than be referred to the four elements of what the Royal Marines call the 'commando spirit' - a great code to live by:
  • Courage
  • Determination
  • Unselfishness
  • Cheerfulness in the face of adversity
In conditions and at times of day when most teachers would be inclined to pack it in, military trainers don't - there's something for us to learn from that.
The CCF had a narrow escape from the Chancellor's axe last year. Thank heavens it survived because I think pupils and teachers have a huge amount to learn from the military life, whether or not they end up having any longer term connection with it.
I close with the final verse of one of my favourite school songs. 'Young Brown' has overcome a series of setbacks until:
And now he’s in a Regiment a-fighting for the Crown,
And soon he’ll be a K.C.B. and Major-General Brown.
So listen all, both great and small, and may there be some more
To rally round to the bugle-sound, and join the Rifle Corps!

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