An Interview with Rob Salter

Here is a recent interview with me from http://www.teacherlinx.com, which gives a little background:

- Can you tell us a bit about your history as an educator. How long have you been teacher? How would you like to summarize your teaching career? Explain the ups and downs.

I’ve taught French, Drama, Media Studies and Special Education in High Schools in London over 18 years. I suppose that I have always preferred to move sideways rather than up to management in schools. I like being in the classroom and I like reinventing myself as a teacher. Biggest ups probably being able to direct theatre productions with enthusiastic and able students. The downs were mainly when I encountered negative adults but I have always tried to learn from those experiences.

- What’s education like in the UK? What’s the structure like? Do kids go to elementary, middle, then high school like in America?

Here in the UK we have a National Curriculum and kids go to primary school up to age 11 and then transfer to secondary school until age 16 or 18. So, only two schools. School Uniform is common as well. Subjects like Drama are compulsory for the first three years of secondary school. Pupils can then opt to study it to age 18. At 16 you take exams in up to 10 subjects. English, Math and Science are compulsory but only up to age 16. If you want to take University Entrance exams, you elect to study three or four subjects, with no choice restrictions, for two more years.

- What are some similarities and differences between education in the UK and the United States?

I don’t know too much about the US curriculum, but I suspect that you may have slightly less choice as to what you study and for how long. My impression is that sports are far more important in US schools, in terms of amount of teaching time and money spent on facilities. We have a dreadful lack of facilities and curriculum time for sports in the UK.

- After being in the classroom 18 years. What have you learned about kids?

Most kids want to learn, whether they realize it or not. Our job is to work out how to motivate them. Kids are naturally good at learning but not all of them are good at being taught. Teachers need to give kids time and space to learn. However we operate in what some people have labeled a ‘bulimic’ system. We put random facts in; they regurgitate them back out. Not a pleasant analogy but it may explain how some kids feel when teachers don’t take the time to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ questions about their subject, for their students.

- If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself about teaching, what would it be? What would you tell someone thinking about becoming a teacher?

As I describe in my website, my theory is that we are attracted to this profession for much more complex emotional and psychological reasons than we may realize. It took me a good few years to understand that I needed to deal with unfinished business from my childhood and was actually ‘using’ teaching to help me practice the assertiveness skills that I hadn’t learned as a young person. So I had to first teach to kids what it was that I needed to learn myself.

Teaching, if you have the self-awareness, is the best free therapy you’ll ever get. Kids respond to you honestly, whereas adults may not. Learn to value that honesty and use it as useful feedback to improve as a professional and as a person.

- Public or Private school? Why? In America, teachers get paid more to teacher in public schools. Does that hold true in the UK?For good or bad, our class system is alive and well. The wealthiest parents still send their children to private school, in the hope that they will go to Oxford or Cambridge Universities and get the top jobs through contacts made. Salaries are slightly higher in private schools but not by much.

- A common notion that society has on teachers is that they have a lot of vacation time. How do you spend your vacation time and is all the time off as good as people portray it to be?

Remember that holiday prices go up dramatically during school holidays so if we go away, we pay more. Generally, you spend the first couple of weeks of any holiday recovering from the previous term. However, I’m not going to lie. The holidays are great and a massive perk of the job!

- How do you feel technology has impacted education today? In the UK, most classrooms will have an electronic, interactive whiteboard, which revolutionizes the way in which subject content can be delivered; using internet resources for example. I am very much for the idea that your site encourages, of content sharing. In theory, all students can have access to the best possible lessons on any particular topic, if all teachers shared content in this way. I think that technology in class, is as good as the teacher using it. It can be time-filling ‘busywork’ or well integrated into a scheme of work.

- What are your main interests in the field of education? What educational topics do you focus on? Over the years, I have become more and more interested in behavior management, as I feel that my background in drama and theater gives me some unique insights into how to create presence on the ‘stage’ of the classroom and how to create an effective teacher ‘persona’. In my current job, I train new teachers as well as work with pupils with special educational needs.

- What influenced you to want to become a teacher? I had done a lot of drama in youth work and liked working with kids in a creative way. I was working in professional theater at the time and began teaching part-time to supplement my income.

- Complete this phrase: Teaching is… the greatest personal challenge you will ever encounter and one, which if you rise to it, will offer the most profound rewards.

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