Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been enjoying interviews with a selection of some of the characters who fill up our twitter timelines. It has been fascinating to hear their views on everything from what frustrates them in today’s education climate to what music is on their playlist when they drive to work.
But who is that asking the questions? Today we turn the tables and put the interviewer under the spotlight. Step up please @bbcTeaching
Can you tell us a little bit about your ‘real’ identity…
I’m Ben Connor, Primary Teacher born, raised and living in mighty Lancashire. I live with my wife, two children and 8-week old Labrador puppy. I’ve taught for seven years in the same wonderful school but now I’m heading off into the unknown: moving to a new school and an SLT role in September.
Let’s hope all that power doesn’t go to his head
What first made you want to be a teacher?
Well, my lovely, sorely missed Granma Janet once told me she always knew I’d be a teacher. She said I used to make the other children at playgroup sit in a circle while I ‘taught’ them. My dad was a secondary graphics teacher and now works in a primary school so he was an inspiration. I didn’t see myself doing anything else. It allows me to indulge my passions (Reading, Writing, Music) but is also never boring.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I love teaching a class that has life and a sense of humour. My class this year has been just that, mad as a box of frogs but excited about learning and full of laughter. This can be a really difficult job, for many reasons, but the children make it. Every day is different but my favourite moment is when the whole room collapses in laughter because of something someone (usually me) has said.
What has been the best thing you have done this year?
After attending @TemplarWilson’s seminar on Whole Class Reading at @ReadingRocks_17 in October, I scrapped Guided Reading (with a huge smile on my face). In stead of 5 thirty minute GR sessions I developed a ninety minute ‘Reading Extravaganza’ on Friday mornings. Using ideas gleaned from Rhoda Wilson, Literacy Shed and other sources, we have discussed image, prose, poetry, video and songs. They have formed some of the best lessons I have ever taught and my pupils would look forward to Friday mornings. They also showed amazing progress and performed well in tests. Listening to children talk so deeply about the purpose and emotional impact of writing and show their understanding.
What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?
I think the most frustrating thing at the moment is the lack of respect given to State School Teachers:
1) Constant scrutiny and lack of trust in our teaching, marking and assessment
2) The development/proposed development of alternatives to State Schools (forced Academisation, Grammar Schools and Free Schools)
3) Devaluing our professional status by allowing unqualified teachers and talk of apprentice schemes.
Is it any wonder we have falling retention and recruitment when our profession isn’t valued by the government? Instead of expensive advertising campaigns, just trust us to do our jobs.
Ah, but where’s the political capital in trusting professionals to get on with their jobs eh Ben?
What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?
I like to sing in the car. I sing in a choir and lead the choir at school. I have ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables – we sing that in choir. Growing up, I loved Ska Punk and Reggae so I’d have ‘The Kids Don’t Like It’ by Reel Big Fish, ‘Is This Love’ by Bob Marley and ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by Althea and Donna. Also, ‘Skip to the End’ by Futureheads, ‘Glitter and Trauma’ by Biffy Clyro and ‘A Certain Trigger’ by Maximo Park as they remind me of meeting my wife at college.
What’s the funniest thing a child has ever done, written or excreted in your class?
I’ve never had had excretion but I did have a Vomican Wave where one child was sick then two more were sick in order…
In terms of funny, I’ve been called everything from Mummy, Daddy etc to Grandma.
One child write the title ‘Funny Feeders’ (about animals with strange diets) but used the wrong vowel in ‘Funny’.
Wait I don’t get it. Fonny? Finny? Oh, I get it, carry on.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Well, I’m ashamed to say I got rather into Love Island this year. I find reality TV boring but those people are an alluring mix of vain, calculating and daft.
I will also watch any film, regardless of quality, and find some redeeming quality (as per our recent Starship Troopers thread). Also, singing loudly in the car, but I don’t feel guilty about that.
I’ve heard you. You should.
If you weren’t a teacher what would you be?
I think about this quite a lot. I think teaching is a profession where you have a lot of highs and a fair amount of lows. I’m generally a positive, upbeat, pour me another glass kind of person, but even I have my days when I wonder what’s out there.
If I left teaching it would be to do something teaching related. I’m interested in ITT, so maybe lecturing. I find the boundless optimism and naivety of students alluring. I got into teaching as I thought it would give me time to pursue music as a hobby so I’d love to be a professional musician or music teacher.
I harbour a secret wish to be an author but lack the time/energy to do anything about it.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about giving children a 3D curriculum: a curriculum that not only teaches them knowledge and skills, but helps them understand who they are and their impact on others and the world.
Outside of teaching, I’m passionate about my family, my faith and the small town where I live.
If you had to pick one topic or subject to teach on a loop for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
I was dreading this question. A couple of Primary teachers have said the reason they chose primary was the variety.
I think I would choose reading as it can produce so many different discussions and debates. Choose the right book and it could last forever.
I feel your pain. I’ve had those lessons that seem to last forever…
What is the most effective routine, method or system you use in the classroom?
Being consistent with routines is something that I find really difficult, probably the weakest element of my practice.
After hearing Paul Dix talk at Primary Rocks I realised I had been making lots of mistakes in my Behaviour Management. Since then I have been praising the positive, making the children who behave famous, rather than focussing on the negative behaviour, and it’s got much better. I developed ‘One Voice’ which highlighted children who were going above and beyond.
If you had to pick four people, not necessarily twitter people, to have dinner with – who would it be and why?
I’m going to have to break my own rules here. I’d have a dinner with the #nicestgangontwitter because we ‘talk’ everyday but rarely meet in real life.
@mr_p_hillips, vocabulary virtuoso would dazzle us with his wondrous wordplay and etymological explantations, @smithsmm would astound us with books of all shaes and sizes. @thatboycanteach would talk all things teaching with his knowledge of people and processes. @dorastar1 and @macfin76 would provide the warmth, good sense and the cakes. @chrisdysonHT would provide the energy, the film crew and pick up the tab.
A finer group of people are yet to meet. I know that’s six but they are worth breaking the rules for.
What is the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Worst advice, my mentor told me to ‘freeze them out’ – open the windows first thing in the morning so the room is cold. That way they are calm and cool for the start of the day.
Best advice probably ‘try things for yourself’, see if they work, don’t take others’ advice as gospel.
Final question, what drives you as a teacher?
I would never have described myself as driven. I always floated along at school, college and uni. Most things have come easily. But teaching is hard work. It’s just right for me as each day is new, with new challenges and problems to solve. Meeting those challenges is what drives me.
I also think of the immortal line from Spider Man: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. We are given power over the learning of our charges. Power to inspire our pupils to a life-long love of learning, or to do the opposite. But also a responsibility to ensure our classes have access to a curriculum that provides them with the skills, knowledge and emotional capability required for a successful life.
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed Ben. Also, thankyou for coming up with the idea for this series of interviews and for working so hard to get them all to us. It has been a highlight of the summer for me and has prompted some useful reflection on the highs and lows of the last school year.
Here’s to a great holiday everyone. Hope you all get a cracking break and that we’ll meet up somewhere along the road next year. Keep smiling.