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How important is it to tap into the interests and pop culture of pupils?

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

The notion of teachers being ‘down with the kids’ sometimes gets frowned upon.

It’s true that it can be taken too far.

At its worst, it can lead to teacher/pupil relationships that are far too informal.

When that happens, it’s easy for lines to be crossed and boundaries to become blurred. However, that’s very much the worst-case scenario.

In fact, there’s a strong argument to suggest that embracing the pop culture that is so important to pupils and tapping into the interests they have can really make you a better teacher. Communication and relationships are more important than subject knowledge Not everyone would agree, but there’s also a compelling argument to say that a teacher’s subject knowledge is actually not right at the top of the key skills that you need as a teacher. Of course, all teachers do need to know their subject! But a First-Class degree from Oxbridge won’t make you a great teacher, necessarily. It’s the way you communicate your knowledge (and passion) for your subject that really matters.

Pitching your teaching at the right level is all-important too. The relationships that teachers build with their classes is more important than subject knowledge as well – the supportive environment you create and a culture of mutual respect. This is where tapping into what is relevant to pupils can be so valuable. What’s the point of this? When will I ever need this? Two questions there that will be familiar to most teachers.

The typical complaints of What are we learning this for? When will I ever need this? These are questions that echo around most classrooms from time-to-time. Making topics seem relevant to pupils can be difficult.

You certainly can’t do it with everything.

But, often, if you can find a way to relate a topic to the things that matter to pupils it can make all the difference. Years ago, I had a Year 10 English class who were proving to be a really tough nut to crack in terms of me trying to nurture a love of poetry within them.

Let’s just say that 17th century romantic poetry wasn’t making the Earth move for them.

To be honest, even the contemporary stuff wasn’t hitting home.

It just wasn’t resonating with the class at all. That was until I decided to abandon the poetry anthology for a few lessons and focus instead on how hip hop artists/rappers were essentially highly skilled poets of the day.

I explained how all song lyrics are essentially poems, whatever the genre. Suddenly, poetry made sense.

We shared favourite song lyrics.

We analysed the imagery and the messages they contained.

Pupils who had barely emitted much more than a grunt in the first couple of weeks of term were now bubbly and animated.

I couldn’t shut them up! I didn’t want to – this is how I wanted my classroom to be. When we (eventually) shifted our focus back to the poetry in the anthology, it wasn’t like pulling teeth any longer.

I won’t pretend that I had miraculously converted thirty 15-year olds into 17th century romantic poetry fanatics, but they did at least ‘get it’ now. Making a connection with pupils is vital The connection that had been made with that particular class seemed to grow stronger.

Something just seemed to click from that moment on.

It doesn’t mean that all teachers should be religiously listening to the music that their Year 8s love – or watching every episode of Love Island so that you can keep up with the conversations going on in the playground. Instead, teachers should make the most of opportunities to tap into what the kids are into when they naturally occur. Being down with the kids should not be forced.

It should happen organically.


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