10 Things Yoda Helped Me Understand About Teaching

‘A teacher Yoda is’ – Yoda

While his unorthodox use of syntax would have landed him in deep water during the English skills test, Grand Master Yoda demonstrates over the course of eight Star Wars films that he is an outstanding teacher.

It’s no surprise. Having spent 800 years training almost every Jedi Master in the galaxy, he had plenty of practice.

Like many, I’ve watched the films, but I’m hardly a die-hard Trekkie (that’s a joke! Calm down).

So with a bit of research I looked to see what I could possibly gleam about teaching well from this most famous of sci-fi characters:

‘Size matters not. Look at me – judge me by my size, do you?’  – Yoda

Yoda exuding gravitas (even though he’s 2 foot tall!)

When I first got into a classroom it was tempting to think that if I were only bigger, I’d get more respect from the students.

After all, it’s Newton’s third law: if you weigh 90 kilos, the floor is pushing back with 90 kilos of force. That force is projected out into the room and the students will sense your presence. Right?

Perhaps. But there are clever ways Yoda conveys weighty gravitas (despite his diminutive stature) that we can transfer to classrooms today, in our own galaxy:

Be knowledgeable

“Won this job in a raffle I did, think you? How did you know, how did you know, Master Yoda? Master Yoda knows these things. His job is” – Yoda

Master Yoda knowing things

Stuart Freeborn, the British make-up artist responsible for creating Yoda, based the character’s appearance on Albert Einstein. What better way to highlight Yoda’s wisdom than by giving him a likeness to one of the greatest physicists of all time?

Good subject knowledge is fundamental for any teacher. Whenever I’ve taken the time to fully understand what I’m teaching I’ve walked into the lesson with a sense of confidence (and even excitement!) to share what I had planned. And the times when I haven’t been so clear, well, the less said about those lessons the better.

Demonstrate to your students you can do something they can’t

“Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice” – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda levitating an X-wing in The Empire Strikes Back

When their X-wing sinks into a swamp, Luke despairs. He’s been using The Force to levitate stones, but does not believe he can use it to rescue their ship. He tries and he fails. Afterwards Yoda attempts to lift Luke’s deflated spirits with a rousing speech, but Luke sulks and walks off. It is only when Yoda shows Luke the seemingly impossible, by lifting the X-wing back on to land himself, is Luke’s faith in what is possible restored.

I gained a lot more credibility stood in front of a class when I began to show that I could practice what I preached. Show your working out. Draw a sketch. Play the piano. Write a paragraph. Whatever your students strive to master, demonstrating that you are the expert in the room will get the majority to pay attention.

(note: ‘expert in the room’ does not mean you must strictly-speaking be an expert, just noticeably more competent than your students).

Speak clearly in a logical and well-paced manner

“Control, control, you must learn control!” – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda – requires a needle and thread he does

At 900 years old, Yoda would be forgiven for rambling a bit. But he never does. Everything that comes out of his mouth is succinct. No fat whatsoever. All killer, no filler. It’s almost as if it has been scripted…

When stood in front of a class, the less I say, the more I am listened to. And the more my students remember.

Aim to cut out anything unnecessary. Know your subject well and use the time you spend planning to work out how you can explain instructions and concepts clearly.

Stand still

‘Feel the force!’ – Yoda

A team of puppeteers on the set of The Empire Strikes Back having about the most fun anyone could have

Yoda could read the autocue from Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and make it sound dignified. Since his character was portrayed using a puppet in the original trilogy, the puppeteers couldn’t move around very much rooting Yoda to the spot. A happy consequence of this is that by standing very still he conveys a feeling of calm confidence – exactly how you want to appear in the classroom.

If you have something important to say (and you do) stand at the front-centre of the room. Put both feet on the floor, shoulders width apart. Imagine you have a team of Lucasfilm puppeteers under the floorboards, pulling levers and rummaging around inside your legs. You are rooted to the floor. No nervous pacing.

Have perspective

“The boy you trained, gone he is. Consumed by Darth Vader” – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda counselling Anakin Skywalker as he struggles with the window blinds in Revenge of the Sith

When Anakin is denied the rank of Jedi Master, he loses faith in the Jedi Order and ends up pledging allegiance to the Sith. It is the birth of the tyrannical Darth Vader.

You can try as hard as you like, but some students, for whatever reason, won’t get on board with the lesson. Know that it’s not you. It’s not really even them. Nefarious forces in their lives have conspired against you both.

Understand that this will happen and don’t blame yourself.

Allow for moments of light-heartedness

“Ow, ow, OW! On my ear you are!” – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda – funny-looking, but also funny ha-ha

It’s probably George Lucas’ greatest accomplishment as a filmmaker that Yoda is taken seriously despite looking like the inside of a old man’s hankie.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not entirely void of comic relief. In fact, there are a few moments in the saga where Yoda breaks his serious persona to make a brief light-hearted quip. Not often, but they’re there. Such as the time he tells a class of young Jedis Obi-Wan has ‘lost an entire planet, he has’. It’s an obscene notion, and gets a giggle from his young students.

I find humour to be tricky with teenagers and for years I’ve been reluctant to elicit so much as a smirk. But I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with letting go, to not be quite so in control all the time. To let the mask slip occasionally and crack a joke. It shows you’re human (or whatever Yoda is supposed to be).

Have patience

‘I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience!’ – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda having had enough of Luke’s BS

Yoda gets frustrated with Luke’s youthful temperament; his tendency to daydream of future adventure and failure to concentrate on the here and now.

But you know what? Despite his complaints, Yoda teaches him anyway.

I sometimes find myself wishing I had different students to teach. Wonderful imaginary students who pay attention, do their homework, write lots, and listen with intent.

But this daydreaming is a waste of time. They’re not going to change. So there’s nothing to do but patiently carry on.

Be decisive  

‘Twisted by the dark side, young Skywalker has become’ – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda persuading Obi-Wan to eliminate Anakin in Revenge of the Sith

Yoda makes some tough calls. None harder than persuading a reluctant Obi-Wan to assassinate Anakin Skywalker once he realises that Anakin has become irreparably consumed by the dark side. This is not an easy decision for Yoda, having helped train Anakin since he was a child.

His decision is based not on what is best for him nor Anakin. But it is the best decision to make.

(If only he had succeeded….)

In the classroom, I sometimes find myself forced into making decisions that put myself and others in an unpleasant spot. Take behaviour, for instance. Giving a child a detention is an inconvenience for everyone. Not only the child, but yourself and their parents: all that recording, reporting, explaining and justifying. Not to mention having to sit there with them when they turn up and chase them up when they don’t. It’s really tempting to, well, just not do it. And in my first few years teaching I sometimes crumbled and gave in to that.

But if there is benefit to be gained in the long-run, making difficult decisions is what we must do.

If anything, when a decision is hard to make, I rest-assured that what I’m deciding must be something worthwhile.

Have high expectations

‘You want the impossible’ – Luke Skywalker

See the source image
‘If I lift the X-wing, will you give me back my sleeves?’

Yoda doesn’t let Luke off easily when teaching him how to hone his telekinetic powers. He starts Luke off small, having him levitate a few small stones. But soon he’s requesting Luke pick up an X-wing with just the power of his mind.

The more you recognise your student’s abilities, the better you can fine tune your lessons so that you’re asking for ever so slightly more than they think they can give.

And there are fewer feelings as good in teaching as when a student rises to a challenge and surprises themselves.

Keep on learning

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is” – Yoda

See the source image
Yoda instructing young Jedi knights. No head injuries allowed.

Yoda reveres children because of their constant curiosity. To learn is to explore; an act of bravery that forces us to admit that we currently don’t (and never will) know enough. It is the arduous task of weighing up our own understanding, find ourselves lacking, listen to feedback from others and get outside of our comfort zone in the pursuit of answers.

I am guilty of not sharing lesson resources for fear of judgment. I still resent having my lessons observed and I’m ashamed to admit I have written feedback from lesson observations that I still can’t bring myself to look at.

The Galactic Empire bears more than a passing resemblance to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; dictatorships which ruled through the violent suppression of alternative views. In Star Wars, as in teaching, investigation triumphs against wilful ignorance.

We continue learning to avoid crossing over to the dark side.

When you peel away the blasters, lightsaber duels, spaceships and alien lifeforms, Star Wars‘ lasting appeal comes from its presentation of Luke and Yoda. Few other sci-fi flicks have shown such a convincing portrayal of the bond between student and teacher. It is a relationship hard-wired into humanity and always will be.

Now go forth, Padawan.

4 Job-Hunting Myths That Could Prevent You From Landing the Right Teaching Job

The truth shall set you free

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

The hiring process is something most people are never taught.

Our knowledge of interview etiquette, how to prepare for one, or even what constitutes a good cover letter are based on myths picked up from the internet, folk wisdom, or word of mouth.

Before becoming a teacher I was a recruiter for a chain of international English language schools and I witnessed first-hand how damaging these beliefs can be to an applicant’s job prospects.

After interviewing over a hundred teachers, here is what I found to be the most commonly held misconceptions about job-hunting:

Myth #1 – You should apply to lots of schools

When looking for a role, the number of jobs someone has applied for is often held up as a sign of their dedication. But applying for teaching roles is not like spinning a roulette wheel in the hope you’ll eventually win big. Just like you wouldn’t kiss everyone in the club hoping to find a suitable partner, you shouldn’t be spamming dozens of schools with applications in the hope that one takes a shine to you. It’s not a numbers game. Show some discrimination and be selective with where you apply.

Myth #2 – You really need this job

Believe me, there are plenty of roles out there you really don’t want. Not all schools have good intentions when recruiting, dropping teachers into departments that are struggling, so pay attention and trust your instincts.

At interview, do the questions you’re being asked seem well-thought through? I was once asked, at the age of 30, how I felt my university degree helped me as a teacher. Their assumption I was a recent graduate showed how little they had even bothered to look at my application.

Does everyone on the interview panel seem invested in who gets hired? I once interviewed with a Head of Department who told me that he’d been asked to ask me some questions and didn’t know what so wondered if I had any questions for him instead.

Did you actually get interviewed? I was once offered a job after a brief informal chat with the headteacher. I don’t even recall him asking me a question. He just talked at me for a while about the school’s troubled finances. When he offered me the job I thought I had gotten lucky, but what I walked into proved to be a nightmare from day one.

As stressful as they are, you want the interview to be rigorous because that’s how you know it’s a decent school – it’s the velvet rope that keeps out the riff-raff.

Myth #3 – Not getting the job is the end of the world

Unless you’re currently barefoot pulling your possessions along in a shopping trolley outside Morrisons, it’s not that big a deal if they don’t offer you the job. Really.

I get it – no-one likes to feel like they’ve been scrutinised and found lacking, but it’s worth remembering that you’re not going to be to everyone’s taste (you never have been) and that’s okay. Schools that take recruitment seriously won’t just be looking for a teacher, they’ll be looking for the right teacher for them. That means some will love you. Some won’t. But for some schools to really want you, you have to accept that there is another side to the coin: others are going to be eager to turn you down. And that is a blessing in disguise.

Myth #4 – You shouldn’t be honest

The best advice I could give anyone before a job interview is to tell the truth. To some this may sound naïve, but you’re not doing anyone any favours by lying.

If you’re afraid that the interviewer is going to discover that you’re basically Homer Simpson, you have worse problems than how to approach a job interview. I’m assuming here that you moderately competent, or at least striving to be so. And so long as that’s the case, you have nothing to hide.

It always surprises me to hear that some people script responses to anticipated questions in advance. I’d steer clear of this. It will make you sound robotic and unconvincing. And there’s a good chance you’ll default to this mental cheat-sheet and not actually answer the question you’re being asked.

Be yourself. Don’t put on a showy performance. Don’t tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear. On the contrary, be as authentic as you can (even if it leads to you not being offered the job!). The interviewer’s only task is to get an accurate read on who you are and what you stand for – not to pass judgement or to make you feel inferior – but so they can hire the right candidate. Not necessarily the best teacher or the person who wants the job the most. The right candidate. And you won’t know who that is, so stop trying to second guess it.

I don’t know anyone who likes job-hunting. It’s frightening and worrisome. Not to mention lots of work.

Be choosy, manage your expectations, and stay truthful.

You won’t go far wrong.

The Hardest Part of Teaching Online

Secrets and lies

The eighth circle of hell from Dante’s Inferno where fraudsters get thrown into a pit to be tortured for eternity by serpents.

Between 2012 and 2015 I moved from the UK to Thailand.

The sun rose and set at the same time every day. It was warm. I had a stress-free job that paid me enough to live comfortably. I had lots of friends, holidayed in exotic destinations, and got to sample foreign cuisine. Life was good.

In my youthful naivety, I didn’t know there was a price to pay for all that.

Of course I had expected it to be hard to keep in touch with friends and family while I was gone, but I wasn’t expecting those bonds to imperceptibly erode away like the face of a cliff. We spoke over Skype. We emailed. But it wasn’t enough to keep the relationships intact over those years.

When I eventually returned to the UK, those bonds had well and truly crumbled into the sea. We could make small talk over a drink in the pub, but I felt no sense of love there. We were strangers and it took years to fully win them back round again.

I thought about this recently while trying to put my finger on why teaching online has been so hard.

Like my jaunt to the Far East, teaching from home had at first felt like a teacher’s dream come true: no commute. No classroom management. No duties. No lesson observations.

But it didn’t take long for the bond between myself and my students to unspool.

A few weeks ago I emailed the parents of my Year 11 students who had not yet submitted any work. The responses shocked me – Lies. Blatant lies. Massive plain-faced obvious fibs, slinking one after the other into my Inbox:

‘My son didn’t understand what to do, but now he does,’ read one parent’s reply (Really? Just like that?).

‘My son didn’t do it because he was worried he’d get a low mark,’ said another (What, worse than zero?).

‘My son didn’t see the work. He’s seen it now and will send it to you this week’ (Spoiler: he didn’t).

Not to mention replies I received from the students themselves:

‘Sir, I’ve looked but I can’t find the lesson – when did you ask us to do this?’ (In the lesson… Wait, you mean to tell me you didn’t even attend the lesson?!)

‘Sorry Sir. I didn’t know I had to submit it. Can you be clearer next time?’ (Well, I’ll do my best, but on Show My Homework not only did I select ‘online submission’, I also wrote ‘submit this to me’ in large bold font on the task itself. If that wasn’t enough of a clue you may recall that strange last third of the lesson where I repeatedly screamed ‘SEND THIS TO ME!’).

And then there’s the plagiarism: one boy wrote, ‘Priestley uses the character of Mrs Birling to represent the corrosive influence of power in the hands of unfeeling authority.’ It’s an excellent line, but it’s also the sort of writing that springs from the mind of a student who is on the proverbial ball, not one who has to be chased onto the pitch at half-time.

After a week of quietly stewing (read: loudly complaining to anyone who’d listen) my anger finally subsided, but I’m left feeling depressed by it all. It’s not that my students and I had the best relationship before lockdown, but I didn’t expect things to get this bad so soon. More surprisingly, I didn’t expect to be so bothered by their lying.

I feel betrayed. So much so I’ve even started to question their intentions at every turn. Now, at the end of each online lesson, when I receive a couple of ‘Thanks Sir’ messages I just reply: ‘Et tu, Brute?’

Psychologists argue that this kind of dishonesty has a de-stabilising effect, causing us to question the very nature of reality itself. Being lied to is bad, but if my students are so willing to deceive me, was there ever anything between us at all? Were they all just pretending?

I’m like Macbeth just after he’s murdered Duncan. The betrayal has left me standing disoriented in the dark unable to recognise the familiar sounds echoing around my castle.

Perhaps it’s true what they say: long-distance relationships don’t work. Despite the magical wonders of digital telecommunication, we still need to gather in the same room once in a while.

To look each other in the eye if nothing else.

The One Resource Every Teacher Needs

The kindness of strangers

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Working from home these past two months has been much harder than I anticipated.

I’ve struggled to put my finger on precisely why. Is it the difficulty of establishing a work/life balance? Or the increased time I find myself sat in front of a computer screen?

While both of these have contributed to making my usual workday that little bit harder, I’d argue that it’s in fact the absence of my colleagues which has amplified the struggle.

While teaching can feel lonely at the best of times there was always the respite of having lunch together; a shared duty or free period; a chat after school or banter outside our classroom doors while the students filed in.

Those are now gone. Like breaths of fresh air, I took them for granted when they were in abundance. Now that they’re not, it’s all I want. That’s not to say I don’t hear from them at all – our days are punctuated by back-and-forth WhatsApp messages. And while these little pockets of air help sustain me to a degree, they’re no substitute for the deep breath of a post-work chat over a cup of tea.

‘There is no desert like living without friends. Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.’

Balthasar Gracian, philosopher

Why should building good relationships with colleagues be a priority?

Pre-Covid I liked to wind up my colleagues by calling our relationship a ‘friendship of utility’. I’d tease them by saying that we only got along because we had to, and we pretended to like each other because it was of practical benefit to us all.

And like with all jokes, there was probably an element of truth to that.

Why then do I long after them? What exactly is it that I miss?

They provide a refuge against suffering

My mum once told me: a problem shared is a problem halved. She’s right about most things and she’s right here too. Whenever I was struggling it was always reassuring to hear that they were too. It can feel lonely in the classroom, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely job.

They provide guidance

I’ve lost track of the number of times my colleagues have come up with a solution to a problem I’d have never considered in a million years. Whether it be a strategy for managing behaviour or a new way to approach a topic, my teaching practice has only been enriched by the wisdom of those teaching around me.

They cancel out my defects

I’ve been rescued by my colleagues over the years. Literally saved on a few occasions from a rebellious class. Not to mention the last-minute lesson resources they’ve shared or the times they’ve helped me fill-in confusing paperwork. Many times they have taken on some of my marking burden without complaint. They picked up my slack when I couldn’t and I like to think that sometimes, although never really enough, I’ve been able to re-pay the favour in kind.

They’re fun

More than anything, my closest colleagues are a source of daily enjoyment. We joke around and make fun of each other. We gossip and we laugh a lot. When the job of teaching has felt stale, a few minutes of gentle buffoonery has often provided me with that much-needed shot of energy to get me over the finish line.

How can you begin to build these relationships in the first place?

As an inexperienced teacher, I was a big bag of neediness. Most new teachers are. In the beginning you take more than you can give which is not the best dynamic for establishing a fruitful mutual relationship with those you work with.  

But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. If I had my time as a trainee again I would be more generous with my time and with my thanks. If I made a decent lesson resource, I’d share it just on the off chance they might want to use it. I’d do a better job of listening to what they were telling me and try not to feel quite so resentful when feedback was rushed. I’d work harder, even when I didn’t feel like it. I’d be more honest. I’d apologise when I was wrong.

Trust between strangers takes time to establish, but the process is sped up when we’re trying our best.

Once Covid is under control and schools re-open, it’s tempting to think that I’ll have nothing more to complain about once my colleagues and I are re-united.

Except I might. I have worked in my school for five years now and conventional wisdom suggests I should be looking to further my career in a new setting. Which is a challenge I’m up for, in theory.

But I hesitate at breaking the bonds I’ve formed over half a decade. No matter the polite promises we’ll make to one another I know the likelihood of us staying in touch is very slim. I’ve been burnt before, spending years in other workplaces with colleagues I’ve seen get married and whose children I’ve held.

And years later they rest peacefully on Facebook; a graveyard of individuals I once knew but from whom I have since drifted apart.

I’ll find new colleagues in the future, I’m sure. Knowing of their fundamental importance, I’ll make sure that I do.

But it doesn’t remove the sting of having to leave old ones behind.

Why I Spend 3 Hours Planning Lessons Every Day

I may have a problem

Photo by Junior Teixeira on Pexels.com

People are horrified when I tell them how much time I spend each day planning lessons. I now get them to sit in a chair before I do just in case they pass out from shock.

I’m five years into my career, but I still spend about three hours each day planning lessons. At least. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t.

And those aren’t lessons for the whole week either. Just the next day.

If Ofsted handed out medals for hours invested on Microsoft applications, I’d have the Victoria Cross by now.

If that doesn’t make you cringe in disbelief, then let me share something even more embarrassing: I never plan at school. I always do it late at night between the hours of nine and midnight.  There, I said it.

Missed opportunities

Do I recommend you do this? God no. It’s just as exhausting as it sounds and every minute I spend with Microsoft Powerpoint is a minute of opportunity lost elsewhere in my life. I should be spending time with my wife; making memories that I can look back on fondly from my deathbed. Not formatting backgrounds, re-sizing pictures, text boxes and fonts.

In forty years’ time will my adult children huddle around my rocking chair, squeeze my hand and say: ‘Dad, tell us that story again – the one about the time you spent 15 minutes looking online for the perfect gif’?

No. They won’t.

But those children (who won’t exist if I continue to ignore my wife) will be the ones missing out because I’ve created some stonkingly good resources over the years. Really – you should see them. They’d fetch a pretty penny on TES Resources if I ever got round to uploading them.

Which of course I won’t. Because there’s that voice in my head (the one who won’t let me use last year’s lessons) who tells me that next year’s lessons will be even better.

A good investment?

I tell myself it’s time well-spent, that it’s okay to spend so much time planning because this is the year I’ll get the lessons ‘right’; that next year I won’t have to work quite so hard; that these will be the lessons to trump all previous years’ attempts.

But then I load up a lesson I taught a year ago and want to set my laptop on fire.

So I plan it again. Often from scratch.


Part of the problem is that the lessons I spend all this time planning are just better. Having spent a significant amount of time thinking the topic through the night before, I’ll teach it really well because I know the material inside out. I’ll have pictured myself, aged 12, sat at the back of the classroom on a rainy Tuesday afternoon and wondered what I’d have wanted or needed in that lesson.

So when I spend all this time planning, I find my students are more engaged, behave better and learn more. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time.

Who’s it really for?

But here’s where it gets odd – I’m not just motivated by the intention to create good lessons. Crafting Powerpoint slides late at night has become a bad habit. And like all bad habits, it serves me well in some way. Like an alcoholic who needs a finger of vodka in their morning orange juice just to start the day, I can’t turn the lights out unless my USB stick is choc-a-bloc with lessons I’m proud of. They help me sleep at night.

And I enjoy making them. Really! The magic act of conjuring a lesson out of thin air gives me a sense of joy that offsets the numb feeling I get from lesson delivery, marking, emails and meetings. My lessons are not beautiful or particularly sophisticated, but I made them with my own fingertips. They came from me, and that act of generosity is real and special.

In my first couple of years teaching, my lesson slides were a life preserver; a certainty I could depend on amongst the chaos. In some ways, I suppose they still are. I don’t need them for the exact same reasons as before, but they’re still my way of saying to the world: ‘I can’t be a bad teacher because – well, just look at all my hard work!’

And if I’m being truly honest, after years being told I wasn’t a good teacher, I’m probably still spending all this time lesson planning to convince myself that I actually do measure up after all.

Any sensible teacher reading this will say the amount of time I spend planning is unsustainable. That chalk and talk is perfectly fine, that good is good enough and when it comes to lesson resources I should beg, borrow and steal.

I know they’re right. I’ve heard it all before. But I expect I’ll continue for some time yet.

Anyway, enough of this – I have gifs to find.