Could Advice From Georges Saint-Pierre Make You a Better Teacher?

The Karate Kid

Georges Saint-Pierre

While not a household name in the UK, French-Canadian Georges Saint-Pierre is regarded worldwide as one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history.

Having earned a karate blackbelt at just aged 12, ‘GSP’ (as he’s fondly known) went on to have a professional fighting record of 26 wins and only 2 losses. Since his last fight in 2017 he has worked on a fledgling acting career with a recently reprised role as Georges Batroc, a supervillain in Marvel Studio’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

With his trademark skinhead and muscled frame you would be forgiven for thinking that GSP was a meathead cage fighter with nothing much of value to say. But a recent JRE podcast interview showed that behind the talented athlete there is wisdom from which even this humble English teacher could learn.

So, could advice from Georges ‘Rush’ Saint-Pierre really make you a better teacher? While the second half of their talk together covers the minutiae of diet, the world of combat sports, ancient civilizations and UFOs, the first half of his conversation with podcast host Joe Rogan was packed with useful advice about achieving success:

Working with people all day is tiring

GSP: ‘It’s insane. I can train all day, but something like this [a podcast], or an autograph signing or a meet-and-greet takes more out of me than something physical like training.’

While the children may be out of building by 3 o’clock and there are weeks of holiday to enjoy each year, anyone who has been teaching for five minutes will tell you that being responsible for dozens of young people in a room for hours at a time leads to a special kind of exhaustion.

We know this, but be prepared to accept that people who have not taught before might not appreciate how tiring it is.

And despite how much much we like to tell them, they probably never will.

Face adversity early

GSP: ‘I think it’s important to face adversity at a very young age because it moulds you, especially if you’re able to overcome it because if you’ve never faced adversity before and you face it for the first time and you’re not prepared for it, it can break you…What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…. By facing adversity and overcoming it you’re building confidence. If you’re always giving someone help, they will rely on that. They need to rely on themselves’

I became a teacher partly because I wanted to help others. But this noble instinct wasn’t always a useful guide in teaching. Sometimes I helped when I shouldn’t have. I had to learn that in order to help a student you must occasionally step back and let them struggle.

Scaffold the heck out of anything you’re teaching at first, but crucially, take it away afterwards.

Let them learn to walk on their own.

Have confidence

GSP: ‘You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have confidence, you’re like someone who has a lot of money in their bank account but has no way of accessing it.’

There was a time when I realised I’d figured out the fundamentals of teaching, I just couldn’t put them into practice. I’d get too nervous, fluff the instructions or not be decisive enough when tackling challenging behaviour.

The lessons shrivelled on the vine and died.

I had to learn to just go for it. If I turned out to be wrong (which was often), the consequences were rarely ever that bad. I could always afford to pivot to what was right soon after – clarify my explanation, admit to making a mistake and plan a better lesson for next time.

But first I had to take more confident action.

People expect to be entertained

GSP: ‘We’re in the entertainment business. It’s not really about who’s the best. As martial artists, that’s the purity of our sport, to see who is the best man… If you’re a martial artist, you understand that, but if you’re watching to be entertained, and because we live in an entertained world, that’s the way it is.’

I don’t believe that as a teacher I am in the business of entertaining students, but I feel that many students expect to be entertained. Or that at least conflate entertainment with the motivation and inspiration they’re expecting from a good teacher.

Part of my lesson planning, then, is giving some consideration for how I will engage these students with a topic.

While there are many ways to achieve this, the simplest way I’ve found so far is to simply explain why we’re spending time doing what we’re doing. This is not just in the context of exams (as important as those are), but also the broader reason for learning a topic – as individuals, citizens, human beings.

The why helps to motivate and inspire.

Remember to take care of your health

GSP: ‘You should see your career as a marathon, not as a sprint…you want to save yourself for another day…More is not better. Intelligent is better. You burn yourself out [otherwise]’

Sometimes I forget that my career as a teacher needs to last decades, not years. I’m still trying to figure out what a healthy amount of work is for me because I don’t want to burn out too early.

I try to tell myself that it’s not about doing the most work I can today nor is it about seeing how much I can achieve this week. It’s about doing the most work I can over the next few decades.

GSP: ‘When you’re tired your creativity diminishes and you go back to what you do best. Creativity is very important…. and creativity is linked with your physical condition’

If I’m serious about getting better as a teacher, I can’t keep resorting to what I have always done before. Otherwise nothing will change. Being well-rested, then, is key to maintaining a creative spirit; to becoming a better teacher.

Work towards a win, not away from a potential loss

GSP: ‘When I’m fighting, I can tell when a guy is letting me know he’s not fighting to win anymore, he’s fighting to not lose….’

In my lessons I admit that I compromise far too much. I sometimes accept the unacceptable to give myself an easier ride. For instance, I’ll placate a difficult class and tolerate quiet talking when what I actually want (and asked for) was silence. I want to avoid an argument or the rigmarole of implementing behaviour sanctions.

But by doing this neither myself nor my students are winning in the long run. I’m just avoiding small losses.

Tell your friends the truth

GSP: ‘I tell my real friends, when it’s time to hang up the gloves, I say to them: If you were going to make it you would have made it by now.’

Why haven’t I always been honest with my closest colleagues in the past? I suppose I didn’t want an argument. Or I didn’t want the people I like most to think badly of me. But in keeping my cards close to my chest I was not being a good friend or colleague.

I am beginning to believe that honesty is the best gift I could give anyone. Only by being truthful will anyone of us have the information we need to make the best decisions we can.

People are welcome to disagree with me. And I accept that I won’t necessarily inspire them to action. But I did my bit.

I need my closest colleagues to be honest with me because it’s too hard to be honest with myself – I’m too close to have a proper perspective.

So I ask people I trust to be honest with me. And then try to really listen to what they say.

Success depends on a variety factors

GSP: ‘Mental prowess, physical prowess. You have to have great coaching… And also fortune…you’re dealing with a giant hurricane of possibilities … The odds of failure are so high’

When I feel like a failure I like to remind myself that it’s an absolute bloody miracle that a lesson in a school can take place at all. There’s so much going against it working, so many possible ways it could go wrong that to avoid any of them at all can often mean something great has been achieved.

Some might think that’s just me having low standards. But perhaps it’s okay to lower our standard for success if we have any hope of feeling successful at all.

Accrue knowledge

GSP: ‘Opponents are scary until you figure out how to beat them. Then they’re not scary anymore’… ‘Knowledge is a weapon. I knew BJ Penn [an American professional mixed martial artist] had a good reaction time so I kept faking to make him react, to exhaust his nervous system. His reaction time slowed down. That was how I was able to get him’

Teaching was very scary at first because I had a lot of problems and didn’t have the knowledge to solve them.

Today there are more books and courses about teaching than ever. Whatever the problem, someone seems to have written a well-reviewed book explaining a potential solution.

Teachers I follow on Twitter (#edutwitter) share brilliant resources that have helped me teach topics in ways I wouldn’t have conceived of on my own.

GSP: ‘the best way to improve is when it’s playful, when it’s like a game because you’ll be more prone to trying new things…it makes you grow’

Twitter is an excellent resource for learning because it’s fun to use – posting comments, getting replies, likes and re-tweets is addictive. I’ve no problem admitting that when I’m tired after a day’s work I am more likely to browse Twitter than I am to read a book on teaching.

And Twitter isn’t serious like a formal school CPD and so I feel like I can try a new technique or approach in the classroom because I simply like the look of it rather than feeling I must try it because it’s being implemented by my school’s management.

Find great mentors

‘I met in my life incredible mentors who had such an incredible influence on me’

As a trainee or NQT you’ll have an official mentor assigned to you by your school, but your mentorship shouldn’t stop there. Seek out other inspiring teachers you resonate with too. They could be in your school or – and I wish I had done this sooner – online. There are many teachers on Twitter who have no idea they’re mentoring me, but they are.

It was easy. All I did was click ‘follow’ and now I get to hear their day-to-day thoughts on teaching. I get a glimpse at their productivity. Each day I borrow their superb ideas. And I’ve yet to not have had a prompt a response when I’ve asked a question.

Their generosity continues to astound me.

Spend time around those less experienced than yourself

GSP: ‘You don’t need to [work] with good guys all the time. Train with people who are not as good as you. This is how I developed my confidence…because these guys were not on my level. You need a variety of training partners. The bigger the range you will be able to adapt to different kinds of styles.’

Now that I am a few years into my teaching career one pleasure I have is the chance to observe new teachers just starting out. I see them make all the same mistakes I made but have since managed to (mostly) figure out. That comparison is meaningful because it makes me see just how far I’ve come.

Your development as a teacher happens so gradually you hardly even notice. It’s important therefore to be able to stop, turn around and see how high you’ve climbed.

GSP: ‘Success makes you weak. Success makes you forget…no matter how good you are…you always need to be sharp’

Observing less-experienced teachers reminds me of the fundamentals, which in turn keeps me on my toes.

Find motivation in bad experiences

GSP: ‘[Losing] was no doubt the most humiliating event in my career. It became a nightmare for me, an obsession in the back of my head. I never wanted this to happen ever again’

I struggled a lot when I began teaching, largely with behaviour management. It was humiliating and it was this lack of dignity that led to me working harder at teaching than anything else in my life. After it happened, I never wanted it to happen again. And so I worked harder.

GSP: ‘A negative experience that you don’t often understand at the time because you go through a depressive moment, but you realise later in life can often help’

With the benefit of hindsight, the worst moments of teaching have shone a light on what I needed to work on. There was meaning in the suffering, so to speak.

I always recommend to anyone struggling in their first years of teaching to persevere. While the relentless difficulty may feel pointless at the time, I realised later on that the pain was trying to tell me something.

GSP: ‘I have an incredible ego. I’m a very proud person…It’s an issue sometimes in life. If I use the emotion when I got hit, I wanted to hit him back right away. It was humiliating. I wanted to give it back to him to shut everyone’s mouth. But if you use it for that, it can be a big mistake. You keep it inside of you and then, when it’s time, you let it explode.’

I spend a lot of energy trying to keep cool in lessons, especially when behaviour is challenging. It’s very easy to get drawn into an argument with a student, to have that last word. But that has only ever caused me problems. Keep it inside. Don’t let it burn you.

GSP: ‘Emotion is like fire – it can help you cook your food, but it can also burn you…I was afraid before every fight. Fear is a good thing. But I’m not a coward…I’m going to go out there and I’m not going to care how I feel because it’s subjectivity. I only care about the objective – what I need to do. This needs to be done at all costs. Me, myself, how I feel, if I’m sick or not, what other people think – that does not exist. The only thing that exists and matters is the objectivity of the things you need to do to succeed. These need to be done at all costs’

Why do I spend so much of my time planning lessons? Well, mostly because standing in front of thirty students terrifies me still to a degree.

I use that fear as fuel to plan (at least by my standards) decent lessons. Nervous energy is still energy after all. It gets me out of bed in the morning. It helps me into a chair to plan lessons after a five-period day. And it helps me to hold my head up and teach when I’m exhausted.

When I started teaching, I was on the receiving end of other people’s judgement: staff, parents, and students. I was still learning and many of these people found me lacking. If I was going to persevere, I had to concentrate on the job at hand and not to get distracted by their opinions.

Strive to be your best self

‘I’m very critical of myself. You can always be better. Martial arts taught me that if you want to change yourself, you have to love yourself. And so I learnt to love myself, to love who I could become.’

Some people are more self-critical than others. I happen to be very critical of my own teaching which has helped me to improve. I’m rarely satisfied with my work and in my first few years of teaching my self-esteem really took a knock.

I am more content now than ever because I love who I have become. I used to be selfish and lazy and I hated myself for that.

Teaching has made me my best self.

The 1 Habit Every New Teacher Needs To Master Quickly

Professionalism: a deep dive

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whenever my school has a non-uniform day a student will ask me in the days preceding what I intend to wear.

I then reveal, much to their horror (and my own amusement), something they hadn’t considered – that my ensemble of black leather shoes, woollen blazer and polyester tie, are not a uniform, but in actual fact my own clothes.

It’s like that episode of The Simpsons when Krusty the Clown announces to Bart: ‘Hey kid, this ain’t make-up!’

But the student does have a point. Are these clothes really mine? Just because I once tried them on in a Marks & Spencer changing room doesn’t really mean I chose them to be my so-called ‘work clothes’.

So what compels me to wear shoes, a blazer and tie to work? Why not a t-shirt and trainers? Or Angel Delight? Is it just because my school’s code of conduct asks for ‘smart business attire’? Or, perhaps, it’s the habit of professionalism?

What is professionalism?

When I was a child there was a rule in our house about how to greet my father when he got home from work. My sisters and I were taught that under no circumstance were we to make demands of him until after he had disappeared upstairs to change out of his work clothes. Only now, as an adult, do I fully understand why this might have been.

The man who came through the door each night was not my father. He looked identical, but that suited man carrying a briefcase was cold and quiet.

Soon, however, he’d stroll down the stairs in faded jeans and a polo shirt, a grin on his face and, a few minutes later, a gin and tonic in his hand. Only then was he Dad.

When thinking about good habits today, we consider them to be a usual way of behaving, as in “good eating habits”. But in its oldest sense, habit originally meant “clothing” and then progressed to mean “clothing for a particular profession or purpose”.

When my father got home from work he had to shrug off that outer shell; the professional clothing, but also the professional habit.

The habit of professionalism, then, is not so much business attire as it is one of those old-fashioned diving suits from the 19th Century; a sturdy enclosure that allows us to safely navigate professional life.

Why is it so important?

In one sense, professionalism encourages us to act when we would much rather not: to do the planning or marking when everything else seems more interesting; to step back from the keyboard before clicking send; to thank others for their feedback, even when it leaves us feeling sore; to not always have the last word.

It helps us to grin and bear it. To step out into the cold November rain and toil under a school ethos that might not entirely be our own.

But in another sense, it stops us from being our truest selves. School is so often a place where we must hold our tongues and put on a show of reverence for those we may dislike on a personal level.

Professionalism helps us to recognise when it is better to just pretend.

That’s not to say we must be professional always

It is of course healthy to be hauled back to the surface for fresh air in between dives. A lunch break provides refreshment far beyond the nourishment of food and drink – it is a time to pop off the helmet and make the sort of idle chit chat you don’t get to when you’re operating professionally: to speak freely, to gossip, to tease, and to express frustrations behind firmly closed doors. All before taking a few deep breaths and going back in.


Ronnie Barker (right) and Ronnie Corbett (left) of The Two Ronnies

I was once told that Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett of The Two Ronnies liked to get into costume as early as possible when rehearsing their comedy sketches. They believed that only once they were in costume could they properly get into character.

I think it should be the same for new teachers too: to get into the habit of being professional as a matter of priority; to quickly put on that diving suit.

For self-preservation, if nothing else.

How A Single Piece Of Paper Transformed Behaviour In My Lessons

Starting over with a clean sheet

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

70gsm of unperforated perfection

‘Are you doing an assessment, Sir?’

I wasn’t. But I could see why the Head of Year 7, having wandered into my classroom on a grey Wednesday morning, had that impression. The class were in pin-drop silence, a parody of student diligence: postured forward, eyes focused, pens poised. Some even had their tongues poking out the sides of their mouths.

The students appeared to be working as if the outcome of the task I had set them really mattered, like it was some all-important test. And while of course it did matter, in as much as any regular writing task in an English lesson might, what their Head of Year observed was a degree of focus he wasn’t expecting to see from thirty eleven-year-olds at the end of term.

I should say that this is not a boast about my prowess in the classroom. I do not consider myself to be ‘good’ at behaviour management. I certainly do not have a reputation in my school as someone for whom it is a strength. It’s one aspect of teaching I have struggled with the most and frequently still do. It was a cause for concern in my initial training and I almost failed my NQT year because of my apparent inability to get students working in a calm, orderly manner.

I was a bit of a liability, truth be told.

So much so, in fact, I was told to attend the weekly ‘Behaviour for Learning’ training at my school. And it was here I got introduced to this one lesson-transforming behaviour management tool: 

A really big sheet of paper.

Wait! Come back! Before you judge, allow me to explain how it works:

Step 1: (this is the hardest part) Find a really big sheet of paper – the Art Department is usually a good place to ransack for this.

Step 2: (Before the lesson) Write each student’s name around the outside in a felt tip pen.

Step 3: Blu tack it to one side of the whiteboard.

Step 4: (In the lesson) As the students enter the classroom, put a tick next to the name of each student who makes good choices, rewarding them for the smallest of actions: sitting in the correct seat, getting their equipment out, beginning the task left on the board etc.

A really big sheet of paper like this has transformed behaviour in my lessons

Essentially, I’m keeping score of their good behaviour. And the students can see that I’m doing that. These positive marks can then be translated into achievement points or merits (or whichever equivalent system your school’s behaviour policy uses for rewarding good behaviour).

During a lesson I will explain a task, model it, and then get students working. It is at this point the Really Big Sheet of Paper® comes into its own because I can stand in front of it, observing who is on task and start ticking off names.

Within seconds, as if by magic, the class fall in line and get on with what they’ve been told to do.

I also use this to record negative behaviour by putting a cross next to a name. Importantly, I never remove a tick that has been earned, nor do I allow the positive ticks to cancel out the negative crosses. Life simply does not work that way – if I mugged an old lady, the judge would not reduce my sentence if I had then helped her to cross the road.

Really Big Sheet of Paper® spared my sanity (and perhaps my career) when I was an NQT. So I made sure to use it quite often with some tricky classes the year after. And then a bit less the year after that. Soon I pretty much forgot about it, perhaps naively thinking I had outgrown it.

But recently last term, when I couldn’t get most of my Year 7 class to be quiet and concentrate, I remembered this and vowed to unfurl it next lesson.

And without fail those chatty students turned on a dime.

So it’s just a behaviour grid then?

No – I’ve used behaviour grids before and find they don’t work as well. The difference here is that you need to have every student’s name on the board. This is more powerful because it’s a constant source of explicit information for each student on how they are doing behaviour-wise.

On a regular behaviour grid I might board a student’s name in the ‘positive’ column for doing something right, or the ‘negative’ column for doing something wrong. But in a typical lesson the majority of the class might not get featured at all, leaving room for some students to drift along idly.

Really Big Sheet of Paper® allows every student to clearly see where they’re at from beginning to end.

Why it works

This method works so well, I think, because the teacher is making explicit what is so often implied – namely, that we are pleased when students behave well: being quiet, following instructions, working hard etc.

Students, as people, are driven to follow their peers, particularly those who are being encouraged and celebrated. So, when I make it plain early in a lesson that the majority are co-operating, and celebrate that with a tick, the peer pressure encourages other students to join in.


To be clear, I’m not suggesting this is the only behaviour management tool you will ever need. It works best amongst a range of classroom strategies within a good school-wide behaviour policy. But what I find so exciting is that it’s the closest thing I’ve found to a ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to shifting classroom behaviour quickly in the right direction. And, touch wood, it has yet to fail.

Now, where’s that blu tack?

PLEASE NOTE: I did not invent the method of managing classroom behaviour described above. It was passed down to me by more experienced teachers and it’s origins got lost in the process.

If you happen to know who came up with this, please let me know. I’d love to credit them here (and thank them from the bottom of my heart!)

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

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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.

The Five Best Ways to Spend Your Half-Term Break

Some activities those new to teaching should make a priority

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been counting down the days and you can’t quite believe it’s finally here: half-term.

For teachers and students alike, no two sweeter words have ever been uttered. You’ve been slogging away for weeks and now all of a sudden… (for one week) you don’t have to.

How should you spend all the free time stretching out before you? Whichever way you see fit, of course. But here are my favourite ways of getting the most out of the half-term break:

Spend time with friends and family

I don’t often see the people I love most during term time. There is something about the momentum of the work week that means I rarely make them a priority (sorry Mum!). Even when I do, I find it hard to relax having just got off work the day before or knowing that I have work the next day. A whole week off allows me to properly relax so that I can truly enjoy the people in my life.

Keep a routine

I used to stay up late at night and then sleep through the mornings, but found this made it much harder to get back into the sleep routine needed for school. And then I found that once the routine of sleep goes, anything goes: junk food, alcohol, lazing around in pyjamas all day, browsing the web obsessively. To keep the good habits I’ve built up over the term, I try to go to bed at a reasonable time and set an alarm for the morning.

I will also make a quick plan of what to do each day, starting with the most important task in the morning. There will also be some non-negotiables, such as twenty minutes of exercise, ten pages of a book read or a meal cooked from scratch. Such ‘high-quality leisure’ prevents me from falling into the time sink of checking social media, web browsing or streaming entertainment for hours each day.

Exercise

I have found that one unfortunate consequence of abundant free time is that it can bring about periods of neuroticism. I find myself beginning to wonder whether teaching really was the best choice of career; or what my colleagues might think of me; or what was I thinking making that joke in front of the headteacher. A jog around the park or a 20-minute HIIT workout keeps those thoughts at bay and makes my time off more joyful.

Read

Read whatever feels important to you. Really good non-fiction has helped me to see the unseen; ideas which I hadn’t previously considered. I like to read around a topic I might be teaching next half-term or a book that could help me address weaknesses in my teaching practice. For example, I’ve been struggling with behaviour in some classes so I intend to read ‘Running the Room’ by Tom Bennett. Recently I finished reading ‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss who, as a former FBI negotiator, offers fascinating insights into effective verbal communication; some of which I’m excited to try out in the classroom.

Think ahead

Towards the end of the break I like to undertake some light tasks that will make the start of next half term feel a little less jarring. And I don’t mean plan next week’s lessons. Instead, perhaps I’ll get a haircut or make sure my clothes are clean and ironed. Anything that will help me hit the ground running on Monday morning.

It has taken me years to use my half-term break in a way that leaves me feeling refreshed and excited about the half term ahead. Just one of the ideas above could make a big impact on helping you enjoy yours. That said, don’t judge yourself too harshly. However you spend your well-deserved time off, enjoy it.

Personally, I’ll begin by taking some deep breaths and letting the fact sink in.

It’s finally here: half term.