Andy Cope, author of The Art of Being a Brilliant Teacher, with Gary Toward and Chris Henley, published by Scholastic has something to say to both teachers and parents.
Can you explain the concept of HUGGs that you’ve talked about in your book?
I’ve been studying wellbeing and human flourishing, culminating in a PhD in Happiness (yes, really!) Those who are living happy lives tend to be in tune with their purpose. They have a fire in their belly and a reason to wake up with a smile on their face. One of the things they do is to set what I call Huge Unbelievably Great Goals (HUGGs) which are big things that excite them. HUGGs are on the edges of your achievability. They are massive goals that won’t happen by accident. They require action. This stokes the fire in their belly and, as a result, happy folk have more energy, passion and purpose.
How can one get kids to be creative and try things outside the syllabus?
Too many teachers feel trapped by the syllabus. They end up teaching to the exam, and their classes end up being restricted in colour and scope. The 80/20 rule means that you need to spend 80 per cent of your classroom time on syllabus (because that’s important for exam results) but 20 per cent of your time on the really exciting aspects of your subject that aren’t on the syllabus. If you get them excited about the 20 per cent, the 80 per cent becomes easier to teach.
Is there a secret ingredient to being a good teacher?
My 3 Rs of modern education are relationships, relationships and relationships. Learning accelerates if and when the child buys into you. Children don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
Has any teacher played an important role in your life?
There’s something called the ‘Pygmalion effect’ whereby people live up or down to the expectations you have of them. The best teachers I had were the ones who believed in me and, guess what, I lived up to their expectations. There was plenty of encouragement, support and, dare I say, love.
How can a teacher tell if a child is having a bad day? How involved should they get in a child’s problems at home?
All children have bad days. As do all teachers. It’s perfectly okay for kids to have a bad day but, as a teacher, you need to try and make sure they have as few as possible. It’s important for teachers to create mini relationships with the children, in which case they might tell you about things that aren’t very good. In the UK, the teacher has a responsibility to pass that information on to someone in the school who has responsibility for following it up. A trained professional, I might add. I want teachers to care, but if you take on all the children’s personal problems, you will be off work with stress. So listen, absorb and pass it on (in confidence, to someone who can sort it out).
What can they do if he or she becomes aware of a verbal or physical fight between kids in school?
Most ‘fights’ are now online. Cyber bullying is a huge cause of mental anguish. The solution will depend on local circumstances. The teacher’s role is to have created a strong enough relationship whereby the child can come and chat things through.
How do you view homework—how much is too much?
In the Indian schools I visited, far too much! The pressures are immense. If each subject, if the teacher is setting an hour, the child ends up with 4 or 5 hours of work in their satchel! In primary, I don’t think there’s a requirement for any homework other than reading a book (for enjoyment) or practising some spellings. Teenagers should be doing an hour, 90 minutes tops. Once again, reading for pleasure should be the done thing. Or ‘happiness homework’ (do a random act of kindness for your family and report back tomorrow).
How does a teacher handle a class where some students are performing above average and the others below par?
Welcome to the real world. Students will learn at their own pace. It’s worth putting students in pairs and asking them to work collaboratively on some activities. That way the stonger students begin to learn how to teach, empathise and encourage those who are less strong. Note, all students will be strong in something. Become a strengths spotter.
Any message for parents from teachers—dos and don’ts?
As a parent, you might have two or three children and that’s challenging enough. Imagine being in charge of 30 or 40? Parents, please trust and support your teachers. They are doing the best they can, often in difficult circumstances. Teaching is a physically and emotionally exhausting job. If your child is enjoying school, please tell their teacher. A simple, ‘Thanks for doing such a terrific job,’ will make their day.
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