“the referee’s a teacher!
the referee’s a teacher!
the referee’s a teacher!”
Watching the Six Nations rugby tournament play out this afternoon, I was again impressed by the referees of this aggressive and skilful game. There are characteristics about the variety of voices a ref uses, and parallels can be made between the behaviours of individuals and groups that are encountered on the pitch, and those brought to mind by my role in the classroom. The most used is a calm, measured voice, proffering guidance, explanation and reason; spattered around the focal point of (often frenetic) activity amidst thirty players. When activity is high-tempo and noise fogs the air, you hear the ref bark an order, raised voice used deliberately to communicate effectively. You never hear that voice used to address an individual, even when the behaviour is shameful and breaks all rules of engagement. The phrases used are varied in length, considered, appropriate; sometimes stock words, sometimes ad hoc. The ref is always talking to the players. In groups, in pairs, one-to-one. The communication is multi-directional: the ref must listen to the players and his eyes at the sides, process the information and deliver a course of action that confirms the rules of play and is fair to all involved. Disputes must be negotiated with firm boundaries drawn and a clear absence of bias. Justice is not always done, but all parties must have faith in the deference of the ref to the agreed rules of the game and the people involved. The ref works hard, right in the mix of the play, not hiding thought or rationale.
When I teach, when I am at my best, it feels like this. Of course, the aggression of a rugby game isn’t in my classroom, but the learning is varied like the phases of play. It exists on spectrums between words such as: messy and tidy, fast and slow, turgid and buoyant, hazy and clear. When I am at my best, there are no cheap laughs, the tone is serious and cheerful. The players are the learners. The game is theirs, not mine. I exist to bring the game structure and let it breathe and grow to the conclusion determined by those who came to play, not by me. This is what I aspire to as a teacher. In observing the roles and responsibilities in society, it is the rugby referee that repeatedly chimes as being most like mine. It’s not sexy and exciting, but hopefully – if I can meet my aspirations, judge situations well and deliver my interventions with calm purpose – the players are at their best: agile and confident, shrugging off mistakes. The players feel the pleasure and purpose of their work, consuming the fruits of their labour.
Of course this analogy is flawed. Pupils do not appear at my classroom door prepared for the game of their lives. There is no audience, although let’s not forget how the social web can help here. I must be a coach and foster meaningful training that aligns with their sense of progress.
And, more importantly, I do not always arrive at my classroom door ready to ‘ref’ the game. As often as not, lessons do not unfold as I have implied above. And I
could should have done more to make sure it was better. But, hopefully, I will be able to make the necessary calls with calm purpose and honesty to bring about something meaningful.
But sometimes, it just goes wrong…
Incidentally, I do think about football referees in a similar manner, but in the vast number of games I have watched of my preferred sport, the analogy does not hold as well. There are examples of when it does, but mostly when Pierluigi Collina was at the top of his profession.