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PLS Teacher Blog 12 – Esther

Have you seen the film The Prestige? It’s an action-packed movie directed by Christopher Nolan, about magicians. Stick with me on this one, it’s relevant to teaching, I promise.
I re-watched it over the glorious Christmas holidays, probably while ticking off my online-shopping list of all the exciting new highlighter pens and sensible shoes that I needed to buy in advance of the first day back at school, which was definitely going to be in January, and definitely going to be in person. Ah, the naivety of youth!

I first watched the film about ten years ago, and loved it. On rewatching, this time as a trainee teacher, I was struck by… something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then, as the story went on, and the magic tricks in the film became increasingly spectacular, I realised what it was – the parallel lives of magicians… and teachers.

It might sound a bit silly, and maybe a bit soppy, but I’ve found that being a teacher isn’t unlike being a magician. Tinkering away deep into the night in your laboratory of ideas; honing the tiniest sleight of hand involved in making your scaffolding seem seamless; and getting that all-important buy-in from your crowd… I mean, class. I’ve been fortunate enough to find that, unlike real magicians, my amazing colleagues are the opposite of secretive around how their ‘magic tricks’ work, and the amount I learn from my experienced colleagues is invaluable.

And yes, sometimes the act does go pretty spectacularly wrong and you’re faced with a room full of children looking as blankly at you as if you’d just guessed the wrong card that they’re holding, or pulled a rubber chicken out of a hat instead of a fluffy white bunny.

But when you pull off the trick – what a joy! My favourite line of the film – and I promise you, this is only the tiniest of spoilers – nearly had me sniffling into my Christmas cake. When asked why he dedicates his life to this strange art, one of the magicians answers “…It was the look on their faces.”

And I couldn’t really sum up the joy of being in the English classroom better than that. I immediately thought back to a drizzly afternoon with Year 7, in which we read The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. I had the time of my life hamming up the reading, pacing the room, creating the illusion that we were all in the presence of Poe’s murderous protagonist. And when (again, spoilers!) we reached that final, immortal line – “It is the beating of his hideous heart!,” the atmosphere in the room was magical. I felt like I’d pulled off the greatest trick of all – and I could tell, by the look on their faces.