Passion and Teaching – A Reply

In Debates and Polemics by Alex Quigley1 Comment

This blog is a short reply to the brilliant English teacher Tim Boulter and his excellent blog post on passion in teaching to be found here: http://thinkingonlearning.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-problem-of-passion.html. Unfortunately, Blogspot websites appear to disagree vehemently with my iPad! So is my reply to Tom’s thought-provoking post:

Hello Tom,

I agree that the word ‘passion’ is typically overused and easily abused. It has become commercialised and corporatised to a degree that we become cynical by the mere mention of the word. For this reason we should reclaim it – we are English teachers so it is our mystical right to do so! As you mention Hattie, I would argue he gives the best definition, particularly for educators – one that equates to your ‘evidence-based’ passion (it is so good I typed it up and included it in one of my old posts!):

“As I noted in Visible Learning, we rarely talk about passion in education, as if doing so makes the work of teachers seem less serious, more emotional than cognitive, somewhat biased or of lesser import. When we do consider passion, we typically constrain such expressions of joy and involvement to secluded settings not in the public space of being a teacher (Neuman, 2006). The key components of passion for the teacher and for the learner appear to be the sheer thrill of being a learner or a teacher, the absorption that accompanies the process of teaching and learning, the sensations of being involved in the activity of teaching and learning, and the willingness to be involved in deliberate practice to attain understanding.

Passion reflects the thrill, as well as the frustrations, of learning; it can be infectious, it can be taught, it can be modelled, and it can be learnt. It is among the most prized outcomes of schooling and, while rarely covered in any of the studies reviewed in this book, it infuses many of the influences that make the difference to the outcomes. It requires more than content knowledge, acts of skilled teaching, or engaged students to make the difference (although these help). It requires a love of the content, an ethical, caring stance deriving from the desire to instil in others a liking, or even love, of the discipline being taught, and a demonstration that the teacher is not only teaching, but also learning (typically about the students’ processes and outcomes of learning).

In the current economic climate of many countries, property values have plummeted, leading to fewer resources available for the education budget. As Doug Reeves pointed out to me, passion may be the only natural renewable resource that we have.”

Some sort of emotional all-encompassing love of teaching isn’t what Hattie advocates here I don’t think. Rather, he advocates almost exactly what you express as your passion for teaching – appropriately ‘evidence based’.

For me, the most important bit is ‘deliberate practice’. I think that any teacher, inexperienced or expert, needs to have this type of passion or they will not become a great teacher. You are right that in the early days simply getting a handle on the craft of teacher makes it s challenge that can be far from enjoyable at times. I also agree that your passion can grow as your expertise grows – I am living that experience. Yet, I don’t think passion is the preserve of experienced teachers alone – the early foal-like tripping and falling of our NQT year, our training, our tricky third year…our ropey last Tuesday can still inspire a different shade of passion – a desire and passion to be better, to bounce back up and fail that bit better.

We can all love a snow day (frankly, I can’t wait to chuck snowballs with my kids on the next one!) , we can all feel like we want to chuck all of our marking into the river once in a while, BUT we do need an overriding enjoyment for working with kids; in seeing the learning spark ignited; in being challenged daily in a multitude of ways (often in ways we never expected – which is the fun but frightening bit!).

Call it passion – I do. Expect it of colleagues – I do. Struggle with it at times – I do. Treasure having it – I do!

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