During my year as a newly qualified teacher, I worked in a grim, chaotic comprehensive school with weak management and no properly organised discipline system. One of the chief consolations was the camaraderie of other teachers who were suffering alongside me. But sometimes they would say things that struck me as very odd.
One English teacher in particular was known for being quite an advanced practitioner, well schooled in the latest methods. When she was observed by a senior manager on one occasion, she commented that things had not gone quite as she might have hoped, but that there had been smiles on the faces of the pupils, “which was the main thing”. It had not occurred to me, innocent that I was, that smiles would be a key yardstick for measuring teacher effectiveness. I still naïvely believed that teachers, and pupils, were in school to work, not to be entertained.
In my experience, when people are working and thinking hard, they do not have grins on their faces. Rather they have a serious, concentrated expression. One might even think of an artist, painting a masterpiece. As he moves the brush over the canvas, he frowns in deep contemplation.
The absence of grins does not mean there is no pleasure in serious hard work. Hard work well done produces a deep satisfaction that no amount of entertainment can match. I don’t have a smile on my face as I write this, but writing is one of my greatest pleasures. I’m concentrating. Why would I be grinning like an idiot?
I want to give my pupils the opportunity to experience this kind of deep satisfaction, so I’m not going to patronise them by serving up mere entertainment. The quiet joy of a job well done is something that anyone can experience, and something that builds character as well as knowledge.
So let’s get serious.