When I thought about the topic for Blogsync this month, I couldn’t really come up with anything to add to the comments I have written in my previous post on the reasons for a new professional teacher body – http://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/a-royal-college-of-teaching-a-view-from-the-grass/ – but recent events have added to this thinking.
I’m not going to go into events yesterday except to say that I did not leave the exchange without reason to look at myself for blame. Others have recently commented on their feelings of sadness as twitter users – tweachers – have begun to turn on one another in attacks on differences of opinion. Sue Cowley wrote of her increasing sense of isolation from the gangs and cliques emerging. Ian Gilbert noted a nastiness in the air. And I, have on more than one occasion, contributed to that nastiness. It is one of the curses of academia to challenge others when it might be best to remain silent. There have been times, in recent weeks where this challenge has been belligerent and at some points plain insulting. I didn’t need an alter ego to do this for me – it’s there in black and white in my own name. Events yesterday have brought into sharp focus for me the fact that the biggest barrier to our status as professionals is our own infighting and bickering.
Let’s give a few examples:-
Teach First v PGCE
There have been many exchanges on twitter about who gets to wear the badge of ‘best trained’ teacher. Charges of elitism are directed one way and of mediocrity the other. Insults are the spades with which trenches are dug. As ever, the picture is much more complex.
The training on the PGCE I did at a Russell Group University was rubbish if I’m honest, but in the same year, a fellow trainee from the Poly down the road had a great experience. In the interim 20 years I imagine both courses have changed a lot. We can’t base our assumptions on our own experiences – even if those experiences are recent. You can’t know what is happening in the institution or even the classroom next to you.
If I were 21 now, or older, with the same degree from the same university that I had then, but with the added burden of a £30,000 debt around my neck, I would jump at the chance of Teach First. It is not the fault of the people who choose to apply, that there are unfortunate connotations associated with the name or doubts about the marketing of the programme. Instead of arguing with each other about ‘best routes’ we should be considering how to ensure that there is parity of access, expense and opportunity. While trainees and teachers have slugged it out in unsightly and ugly battles, the government have quietly dismantled and brought into disrepute some excellent PGCE courses, including those at Oxbridge. Our status will not be raised unless we start to see teacher training as a life long exercise and one in which a deep and abiding interest in and knowledge of children is every bit as important as knowledge of subject (I would actually say more important than – but you can argue with me!). Laura McInerney’s blog on Teach First myths was really helpful http://lauramcinerney.com/2013/05/29/top-5-myths-about-teachfirst/ and it is worth looking at some of the Outstanding inspections reports given to institutions like the IoE and MMU to better understand how PGCEs might impact on the process. All access to teaching routes should be free of fees, in the same way that the NHS subsidises the training of its future professionals. Campaigning for this might be a better way to raise our sense of professional unity.
The point here is that to raise the status of the profession, we cannot afford to allow the impression that some teachers are better than others – purely by virtue of the route they took into teaching – to take hold.
Some children in many schools behave in a way which is difficult to manage. We seem to be fixed on the idea that this is either true or not. Of course it is true. I’ve made my own thoughts on this problem quite clear. The issue is not whether there IS bad behaviour, but why and how best to handle and manage it. As a profession, this means engaging with cultural, social, neurological and psychological contexts. It also means expecting a clear steer and whole school consistency from teachers and leaders. Why do we argue about this? Let’s instead share our ideas – this will create the impression that we are a solution focused profession. Let’s stop blogging about awful behaviours (or worse, children) we encounter, and instead blog about the things that have worked for us – in that context at that time – and build a body of expertise. If we approach our practice in this way, we do not leave the door open for the media to quote us in over-simplified rants about the country going to the dogs.
Knowing your Shakespeare from your Dickens is knowledge. Being able to solve a quadratic equation is knowledge. Recognising diffraction patterns is knowledge. We need knowledge. Pedagogy is knowledge. We need that too. And we need to recognise that knowledge and purpose are best connected. Consider this quote:-
‘Knowledge alone is insufficient. Knowledge also requires an apprenticeship to evolving practice. This practice is not a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of experimental doing and acting, when knowledge is not enough, when knowledge fails. A gardener on a new hill in changing climate. A cyclist going beyond her limits on a hill taken too fast. A teacher in front of a new class each new day… A writer essaying the next sentence…The first day without a loved one…and the hundredth. A scientist with new results.’ (Williams 2013)
These examples show us that the argument is not and should not be about knowledge versus skills, but about the knowledge based development of skill. The cyclist with a basic knowledge of momentum combined with the experience of braking on hills will fare better in this new context. The gardener who can distinguish between acidic and alkaline soil and who knows which plants will resist the wind or drought in this new climate and garden will fare better. Knowledge through application leads to the development of skill and good judgement. Why are we arguing about that? Couldn’t we instead share our ideas of contexts and events and scenarios which help children to learn their knowledge in a future oriented mode? Wouldn’t this be more useful? And surely this, not entrenched positions, will raise the status of the profession?
Fiddling while Rome Burns
There is an enemy in our midst. It’s not that tweacher you disagree with. It’s not Michael Gove. It’s not the parent sneering in the Daily Mail. It is the fundamental flaw of short term party politics which drives our democracy. Politicians interested in ensuring their re-election are focused on crowd pleasing and headline grabbing. Some make decisions sometimes that happily bring their own motives and the needs of children closer together. Most don’t. Until we have a professional, independent body managing pedagogy, policy and professional accountability – a body run by teachers, for the benefit of children, we will get nowhere. And we are on the road to nowhere because we (myself included) are not proving ourselves worthy of the trust of such a position.
So I say again, that we do need a college for teachers – I would support the idea of a Chartered College personally, but then the name is not the most important thing in the end – the autonomy, purpose and pedagogical mastery, to borrow from Daniel Pink’s brilliant work on motivation, will raise our performance. And raised performance will lead to raised status. And in the meantime, we need to get out of the gutter and show the world what we are capable of when we all act together.
Williams, J (2013) Time and Education in the Philosophy of Giles Deleuze, in Deleuze and Education, Eds Masny, D and Semetsky, I, Edinburgh University Press.
Pink, D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc