About The Time-Travelling Teacher

My name is Melinda Bower and I am a Time-Travelling Teacher.

I first became a Time-Traveller in 1971. Since then, I have been travelling through time at various speeds.

So have you.

I mean of course that I was born in 1971, so have been travelling through time at a ratio of 1:1; that is at a rate of one second/ per second, which is normal and really rather slow, although it can feel as if it is racing by or dragging, depending on the traveller’s perception.

There are different ways to time-travel, though. As human beings, we are able to learn from the past, look into the future (to different degrees) and consider how our present relates to both.

My interest in education goes way back. I went to school, like most of us. Then, having grown weary of school, I ran away to London to join the theatre. My interest in learning never wavered, just my interest in schooling. I went on learning about everything that caught my eye. Eventually, I felt the need to get some qualifications, because I wanted my education to be obvious to others, partly through necessity- youthful exuberance will only get you so far, particularly when you are about to turn thirty- and partly through vanity.

I  decided upon taking a degree with the Open University. I was naturally apprehensive about my ability to study formally by myself, so I set out to study how to study and began a (so far) life-long fascination with everything to do with Mind, Brain and Education. As well as an interest in the subjects I was studying, I became a student of learning itself. So even more work to do, right? Not really. I found that learning becomes much, much easier when you know how to do it, like anything else. Obviously.

I loved my degree, which was interdisciplinary (just how I like it)took various historical periods (The Renaissance, The Enlightenment and Romanticism) and explored them through examples of their Art, Philosophy, History, Science, Music and Literature. It is an ideal degree for me, because I have always been unable to really settle on a particular subject. The world is far too interesting for that.

I also loved learning about education, psychology, neuroscience and anything else that pertained to the most fascinating subject of all and which everything else relies upon: our amazing brains. Again, this is obviously a multi-disciplinary area.Thankfully, that is exactly where we are now. We have reached a stage in our knowledge where it has become necessary for the different disciplines involved in the development of the human brain (that would be educators, neuroscientists, psychologists and others) to communicate and cooperate with each other if we are to make progress, synthesise and apply that information.

I became a study-skills workshop designer and presenter, travelling the UK and visiting many schools, where I taught various and diverse groups of students, teachers and parents about how brains learn and how to make learning easier. I enjoyed these workshops immensely, particularly when students said things like one year 8 girl: “I now know that I am clever and I have a good memory. This morning I thought I was stupid, but now I know that isn’t true!” Far too many children think that they are stupid. How has this happened?

I really enjoyed the workshops, but something kept bothering me. Why did schools, children, teachers and parents need me to come and spend time with them to teach them all how to learn? Surely, I thought, this is what schools do? Isn’t learning how to learn the whole point of  going to  school in the first place? Okay, perhaps the idea is to collate a bank of knowledge, but what about being able to apply that knowledge to different circumstances? What about the development of life-long learning skills that could be used in whatever context the student may find themselves as their future unfolds?

So I trained as a teacher. I worked in FE for a few years, then took a PGCE in Secondary English and got a job teaching just that. The PGCE course was interesting and intense, as was my year as a Newly Qualified Teacher. I was lucky enough to join a school where the CPD is second to none; weekly all-school sessions designed and led by passionate fellow teachers. Unbelievably, although we had sessions about related topics, such as Pace, Engagement & Enjoyment, Differentiation, Behaviour for Learning, Assessment & Feedback and Questioning, there was no specific training at all about how learning happens and how it is sometimes difficult or impossible. 

No Neuroscience. No Educational Psychology. Nothing about how memory works. Nothing about how to motivate students.

(There was also nothing about what education is for, or the future of education and employment, which we will need to discuss later)

I really was stunned by this. It turned out that teachers are under so much pressure to get through the material contained in the curriculum that it is very difficult to pay enough attention to making sure that the content sticks in their students’ minds. So it is often not “learned” at all! I did try to include study-skills in my lesson plans and it worked to a degree, but meant that I was swimming against the tide of the way the children expected to be taught. It felt strange to them, and getting “buy-in” from students would be much easier if good study skills were taught by every teacher and were embedded completely in every school culture. The term “study-skills”, by the way, may sound old-fashioned and obvious, but I include everything that we now know from all the various disciplines, as well as whatever we end up adding to that as we continue to learn.

In short, when I became a teacher, I discovered that our schools are behaving as though education has got very little to do with how human beings work.

I decided to become the Time-Travelling Teacher so I could gather the best examples of knowledge and skills from the past, present and future; find what needs to be discarded, what should be kept and what we should start doing. Lots of little bits of information are filtering through, but we need a more coherent approach which will enable us to make the huge changes that are needed to equip the current generations of teachers and their pupils to meet the challenges they now face.