Saturday 2 September 2023

Making school interesting


 Making school interesting

                  School photograph circa 1909, a class of 25, not 40.
        My father is in the sailor suit, 2nd row from front, 4th from left
                  I like the little dog in the middle of the front row

The following is a rambling post, (aren’t they all? I hear you say) so, if you’re not in the mood for hiking, it would be wise to stop here.

Primary school was never boring. One teacher taught every subject in a year group. Each member of the class was known, for better or worse, and there was no escaping notice. It may not always have been comfortable, but it worked. There is more flexibility in primary schools now and pupils receive lessons from different teachers, though usually one teacher has overall responsibility for one class and knows the children well.

It’s a different experience at secondary school. There are many more students and staff. Children are separated from others with whom they may have been at school for six or seven years and put in tutor groups or registration classes with people they may never have seen before.

Pupils move around the school to different areas, to be taught by teachers they may see only once a week. It’s a new and disconcerting life, but one to which they adjust quite quickly.

My introduction to history at grammar school revolved around the repeal of the Corn Law. As I recall, we were given a list of dates to learn without much understanding of the politics behind the law. This was less than interesting to a class of 11-year-olds.

Maybe the teacher was engaged in her subject but she could not capture my attention. To be fair, I was a daydreamer, easily distracted. My interest was sparked a couple of years later by a different history teacher, who told us that the Sun King, Louis XIV, lost his toes through disease. Subsequently, I discovered that he had developed gangrene in his left leg in August 1715 after a hunting trip. It spread rapidly and he died a few days later.

Thereafter, I developed an interest in history.

Biology was always taught in a stimulating way and I remember drawing amoeba and spirogyra during my first lessons. I was fascinated by those single-celled organisms, and the interest and curiosity they awoke developed and endures.

Drawing maps and plotting names of rivers and towns in geography was a little stultifying, but quite a lot of it stuck. Physical geography was much more exciting. My recollection is that the geography teacher was enthusiastic about it and transmitted her interest to us.

Sadly, chemistry and physics were poorly taught, or perhaps I poorly listened, and the mysteries passed me by until much later, long after I had left school. Similarly, mathematics was taught unimaginatively. Not understanding was the fault of the pupil, not the teacher’s delivery.

When I listen now to experts speaking about their field of study, I hear the enthusiasm and passion in their voices. I am impressed by how articulate they are and the ease with which they explain complex concepts in a way that any listener can understand.

Why cannot schools draw in such expertise? Of course, some do, and there are numerous examples of pupils being inspired by their teachers in all fields. For many, though, education only really has significance once school has been left far behind. 

Maybe that is the purpose of school – to jumpstart curiosity so that it can remain an integral part of life – but how many people regret the lost opportunities that school could have offered and spend years ‘catching up’? There is some truth in the saying, ‘Education is wasted on the young.’ It certainly is wasted if it has been poorly delivered.


  1. My own education was largely wasted as I was also a day dreamer and knew from the start I would only be at school until I was old enough to leave, then I would get a job and earn money. If only I had known what better jobs I could get with higher education I would have argued with dad and maybe been allowed to stay. But I had no idea, education wasn't valued as much as "earning a wage".
    Anyway, I breezed through primary school, learning easily and passing all tests with high scores, but secondary school was harder and I hadn't learned any study ethics, my dad didn't approve of homework. But we did have a temporary history teacher who knew how to grab our attention, a science teacher who did the same and also a Math teacher who loved math and loved teaching it. If all my teachers had been like that, again, I may have fought to stay in school.
    In Australian secondary schools, the kids stay in the same classrooms and it's the teachers who go from class to class.

    1. It's a hit and miss affair which teachers you get.

  2. I realise you are talking mainly about teachers and curricula, but today I saw a primary school desk that flooded my memories of 1950s learning. Wooden seat and back for 2 pupils and a wooden desk each, held together by curving, iron bars. Even the two ink wells were still intact.

    Did learning so close to the neighbour increase learning?

  3. "It’s a new and disconcerting life, but one to which they adjust quite quickly". It was disconcerting, and some of us took quite some time to adjust from our small primary school with two teachers.

    My secondary school experience is different to River's. We did move secondary classrooms for each lesson. Maybe not for English Expression and French, but for everything else.

    I think you would have been very keen on Horrible Histories if it was around when you were of school age.

    I never realised how interesting Geography was until I left school. It was combined with HIstory and called....Social Studies perhaps.

    I've been looking at non raw figure educational outcomes comparing the UK to the US and while US can turn out very articulate young adults, their education is quite inferior to that of young adults in the UK.

    I've looked a little at our island state of Tasmania and its appalling educational outcomes but I yet to be convinced by any one theory.

    I think some subjects are quite easy to make exciting for students, but Maths and what was called Pure Science will always be a struggle. My Maths teacher was quite good at making Maths interesting but once I knew all the basic stuff including some geometry, the rest being trigonometry, logarithms and algebra were quite irrelevant and I could never see a use for them, and I still can't.

    Sorry for such a long comment.

    1. Comments are good and yours is enlightening, thank you.

  4. I loved science as I loved the teacher, Maths teacher brought me out and I excelled. Geography teacher had travelled the world and brought the subject alive. History teacher had come from teaching at university level to our school, he could not manage us at all. I loved senior school, coming from a small village where everyone knew everyone, it was great to be in such a mixture of people, that is once I got courage to join in.

  5. It's good to hear that it was definitely a positive experience for you

  6. Jeeeese! Think l've said this before...I hated school
    from the day l started..aged five..till the day l finished..
    aged sixteen..! :(.
    Got into ALL the sports teams, so l could get Wednesday
    afternoon off...! :).
    Still..aged sixteen, l thought..'Willie, time to get educated'
    HeHe! Took an entrance paper for Poole Technical
    College for two years, four O'levels, three A'levels,
    Zoology, Botany and Psychology...Passed the lot....
    Grade 'A's in the A level subjects...Whey~Hey! Let's
    get into a bit of brain surgery..! :).

    But..! I always wanted to go into the entertainment
    business, which l did for twelve years professionally,
    ten as a choreographer and dancer..the other two,
    bit of stand~up, played drums in a band, radio and
    club DJ...All great fun, always worked for the Americans,
    well..they did pay well..
    Highlight...Spent ten months in 68, in Detroit, at Motown..!
    Love 'MY' music..runs through my veins, through my entire

    Still have my old black/white photos from my time at infants
    and primary school...HaHa! Not many of us left now...lot
    gone over the bridge..bless them...all good, bad, and the
    ugly...God..! There were some ugly ones, and the girls
    were just as bad...HeHe! Great..! :).
    "Every day above ground is a good day"....! :O).

  7. School is not for everyone - parents are often surprised to hear that!

  8. I did well in high school, but my father was against higher education for girls and I wasn't motivated enough in 1970 to work and learn. So I did well on jobs I held for my life. And I think I have let my brain cells shrink too far to care anymore, lol.

  9. I think you underestimate yourself:-)

  10. Although I always loved and did well at school, it was a big step going from primary to secondary school, and even more so when after two years of the latter I transferred from our small village school to a much larger school in a nearby town. It took me a long time to get used to that as I was the only student in my former school who changed to that particular school and I didn't know anyone at all at my new one! I still shudder to think of those first couple of weeks. xxx

    1. It's quite a worrying time for sensitive children, without going to a school where they know no-one. x x x

  11. I'm sad to say that I never developed an interest in history at school. Indeed I'm almost ashamed to say that, with the exception of social and economic history at University and a great love of the history of the battles at sea around the time of Trafalgar history has managed ro pass me by.

  12. I’m a teacher and I loved my job and always aimed to ensure that every child in my care had the happiest of days. My own schooling was a happy time too. Primary school was wonderful…in the days of nature walks, school milk, school fetes, sports days…etc etc. We had a huge school field too. Grammar School was a bit of a shock to start with! Very strict. I was sporty and spent a lot of time playing various sports for the school. History, English and Sport were my loves! I was fortunate as my dad was a History teacher and he taught me a lot, as family holidays were spent trekking around various, historical sites. Training to be a Primary School teacher, was very enjoyable too as I was lucky enough to spend three years in an old mansion in Hertfordshire..with lovely grounds. So I look back on my education with fondness. I worked hard and I played hard! 😁 For me, teaching has been a wonderful career.

  13. Oh, yes, milk monitors and nature tables, weekly singing lessons and walks to The Vines, making tea for the teachers, ball games against the wall . . .

  14. I was a teacher at one time and always loved my job.....until I didn't. I loved / love retirement more; but I really have a lot of sympathy for teachers today in this country (USA) where in some states there are groups of people censoring books that children / teens can read; where a state such as Florida is telling teachers to teach that some good things came out of slavery (slaves learned a trade) rather than that slaves were ripped out of their homeland and homes. Teachers in Florida have to "not say gay." In Texas some school libraries are closed and turned into rooms of discipline instead. I do not live in either Florida or Texas, but I do not understand how those teachers can continue to work under those conditions, being afraid of what they say in class, having to teach history in an erroneous way, and ban books that make the "whites" look bad! However, I do not doubt that these things will spread elsewhere. The "Moms for Liberty" are already active in my area -- trying to ban this or that. It is a frightening phenomenum. I am glad I no longer teach.

    1. That's indoctrination rather than teaching. Science is 'taught' rather confusingly, too, in some states.
      In UK we are having some very confusing teaching about gender and sex, as well as some biased teaching about human rights. It almost feels like a sin to be white sometimes. History should not be rewritten - that is so dangerous!

    2. On the contrary, here the plan by a certain party is to glorify the white race and suppress accurate information about other races through history classes and banning certain books. (So far only in certain states....but......)


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