Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like education has gone all po-faced in recent years. We seem to believe that everything must be measured, analysed, specified, standardised, turned into data that someone can input into a spreadsheet. We have started using words like “metrics”, and phrases such as “opportunity cost”. We have begun to talk like accountants and economists. We pick apart the minutiae of this method or that method, claiming that research will tell us exactly which one to use. I read entire blog posts about teaching, that do not contain the word “children”. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that learning is slippery, complex, nuanced, elusive and uncertain. And apparently we have forgotten that education does not just take place in school.
Recently, I’ve heard being a teacher compared to being a pilot or a surgeon. Now, don’t get me wrong, teaching is probably as hard and as complicated as being a pilot or a surgeon. Teachers should definitely have a long period of specialist training, and plenty of ongoing professional development. I do not believe that we should have unqualified teachers in our classrooms, not least because it under estimates just how difficult the job can be. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we are not flying hundreds of other human beings through the sky in a 450 ton metal tube, nor are we cutting open a human body and fishing around inside. Or, to put it another way, even in your worst lesson, nobody died.
Education takes place over years and decades, not minutes or hours. Education is a process that has no beginning or end. And education is a joint enterprise. It is not something that you can do to my children. It is something you have to do with them, or you will fail. When I think back over the education I had myself as a child, and the education my own children have so far received, it’s easy to highlight the kind of things that got us learning. It has never really been about the systems schools use, or the methods teachers choose. It has always been about people: the great, beating heart of humanity. The teachers who got me and my children learning (and, perhaps more importantly, sustained our love of learning) were warm, kind, funny, approachable, caring, strict when needed, flexible when required, clever, creative, imaginative, inspirational and all those other wonderful attributes that the best teachers have. But they were always, always first and foremost flesh and blood human beings. They were people who could have some fun when the situation merited it, because they did not take themselves too seriously.