Posted by Violetta Konar
Each month we’re highlighting one of our members for sharing their creative teaching resources that have helped teachers all around the world. Let me introduce you our January’s Contributor of the Month – James Ferguson. He’s a fascinating Science teacher from Yorkshire who has previously gained spotlight for buying a beehive from his resources’ earnings.
What’s he like? Let’s find out.
James, congratulations on being our January’s Contributor of the Month. You joined Teachable in March 2010 but what motivated you to start contributing your teaching resources in the first place?
JF: My formal education is as a biologist; I have a degree in genetics from the University of Leeds. When I started teaching in 2004 I taught biology and some physics. I found out very quickly that I had to prepare twice as long, twice as well and in twice the detail to teach physics, just because the information wasn’t at the front of my mind. When the syllabus changed in 2006 I decided to do the job properly and spent every Sunday preparing a PowerPoint and worksheets etc for the next week’s lesson. In 2009 I went on a physics SASP course.
I had always shared my resources with teachers I met along the way but it was suggested by people on the course that I should share them with a wider audience and Teachable was suggested as a great way to do this. So I did!
What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?
JF: When students get the buzz of science and at the same time tell you how easy it is. When parents say ‘She really loves physics. I never understood it at school. I don’t know where she gets it from!’ When students tell you they understand physics, it’s the other subjects that are hard. When they exclaim out loud ‘I get it!’ and the rest of the class laughs and you share the joy of discovery yet again.
Teaching lets me enjoy the little knowledge I have by giving it away over and over again!
What challenges do you face with keeping students engaged and how do you overcome them?
JF: Hit them with a wall of enthusiasm; tell it each time like it’s the first time; make it seem spontaneous even if I’ve done the same lesson four times that week. Make it special for them: it’s the first and only time they get taught this thing so for them it is special and new and they need to believe it’s just as special and thrilling for me. I don’t find engaging students difficult as long as I fully engage myself!
You have an impressive number of contributions across 58 pages of resources on Teachable. What are your three best resources of all time?
JF: Dos and Don’ts of Graphs - This is the work horse of resources. I just use it over and over again. P5d Momentum – Nicely animated, fun but simple. Energy in Stopping – This is a magic lesson. The students love the practical, it’s simple great fun, works brilliantly and gets me an OUTSTANDING time and again in lesson observations!
If you were to advise a new Teachable contributor, what would be your top tips for creating teaching resources?
JF: Be totally clear on your objective. Work out exactly what it is you need to say. Find a way to make it fun and interesting, few slides well animated, fewer words more pictures, sound effects help, make it unpredictable. Then polish it and polish it again. Don’t submit it until you’ve taught it at least twice and worked out the bugs. If you can use it in a lesson observation so much the better, then you get another professional and critical opinion on it.In short make it ‘teachable’. A resource can look great and have all the content but if you can’t use it to teach with it’s no good.
What do you think about the current state of education and where would you like to see improvements?
JF: This is a challenge for me, but less is more: Politicians and the public in general should decide what they want students to learn. Then let teachers teach it. We’re professionals and we know how to do it. Everyone went to school so they all think they know how we should teach. Teachers are the most important part of education. NO, along with students we are the ONLY parts of education. Without teachers a school is just an empty building; with outstanding teachers an empty field is the best classroom in the world. Teachers should be respected for our skills and commitment and the unnaceptable attacks on our pay, pensions and conditions MUST STOP!
Teachers are an extremely busy bunch. How do you find time to relax after work?
JF: I work for my students. A teacher’s workload can expand infinitely. Before I do anything I ask whether it will improve the education of my students. If not I don’t do it. I owe this to my wife and two young daughters it’s their time I’m steeling.
James, tell me more about your bee keeping. How and why did you get started, and do you consider it as another job or something fun to do?
JF: Beekeeping is impossible to sum up in a few words. It helps the environment; it’s very challenging practically and intellectually. It gets me out in the sun and the odd sting lets you know you’re alive. I got a beehive for my 40th birthday and it’s grown from there to 12 hives now and I plan to add more this year. It was a hobby to start with but increasingly it’s a second job. The money it generates is necessary as the pay cuts and inflation keep on biting. I’m helping teach a beginners’ course in the spring. My enthusiasm for the honest trade of beekeeping coupled with the noble profession of teaching is a perfect match.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t asked?
JF: I try to do everything to the best of my ability and leave everywhere I go a little better than when I got there and everyone I teach a little more knowledgeable and a little more confident than when I meet them. We have the power to change things more than politicians, more than big business, more than bankers, because we can shape the next generation. Together teachers have the power but with it we have the responsibility.
What a great line to finish the interview! Thank you, James, for taking some time out of your busy schedule for my questions and sharing some tips on creating resources. Readers, check out James’ amazing collection of resources and send in your suggestions for who should be the next Contributor of the Month to firstname.lastname@example.org.