You Cannot Be Serious

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.

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8 Responses to You Cannot Be Serious

  1. bt0558 says:

    A lovely post with which, you will not be surprised, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I don’t however necessarily agree that all teaching is particularly complex. I think that old faithful Pareto comes in handy here. I think 80% of the benefits come from 20% of knowledge/skill of the teacher. I believe that you can quite quickly get people up to the 80%.

    I think the days are gone when we have 450,000 teachers all paid the same rate. I am sure people will disagree. Just as we have different levels of medical professional, accounting professional and computer professional we should and will have different levels of teaching professional.

    80% (or 360,000) will be those who have the 20% (or maybe 30-40%). The 20% will be those who have the other 80% of knowledge and skills. The 80% will do some teaching and also mentor/manage.

    We mess about with ASTs, Teach First and all the other initiatevs that have sort of gone in this direction but tinkering is not enough. A system designed to compel all students to attend school to be trained to fill low skilled jobs is now not suitable. The whole thing needs to be reengineered.

    TAs, HLTSs, apprentice teachers, qualified teachers, chartered teachers….all of these are teachers, just as all accountants are accountants. One of the biggest issues for me is that most of the difficult stuff requireing chartered status is for me in primary, whereas most of the bloggers I see offering up advice (who see themselves as gurus) are often secondary. You need excellent subject knowledge in secondary but the teaching and learning is easier in the main by orders of magnitude. The profession will find this difficult to accept.

    There should be at least be separate Primary Secondary Colleges. Would be a start.


  2. bt0558 says:

    OK….just reread and the %age stuff I didnt even understand. I blame the flu medication. Sorry


  3. mfcuk2 says:

    Reblogged this on mfcuk2.


  4. iantindal says:

    I have no experience of secondary teaching apart from that of being a pupil and the proxy experience of being a parent to 4 children who have done secondary school. It makes sense that the largely discrete teaching of subjects requires / allows deeper subject knowledge but I do wonder whether more cross curricular learning would be of value at secondary level. Maths fits pretty much everywhere and most of my children have found it to usually taught as a discrete subject in a classroom with little attention to using it in the real world so they can see the applied purpose of quadratic equations, pi, or probability. I am sure there are schools where that does happen I have just not met any yet.

    As a primary teacher in the 90s I loved the rich diversity of the primary curriculum and was fortunate to be in a school with a creative head who appreciated idiosyncratic teaching that adapted to themes the children were interested in or perhaps based a day around lived experiences of the children. If someone had a wonderful Pizza the day before I could do a day in the life of a pizza covering cultural origins of the food; agriculture and all of its complexity; transport and associated environmental issues; economics of purchasing; shops and shopping lists; types of flour, interpreting the algorithm in recipes; sorting, measuring and mixing ingredients; how yeast works; the art of cooking; different ways of making ovens work, building models of ancient ones; the practical exercise of the cooking of the beast and the dangers of hot ovens; mathematics of dividing the finished item fairly; nutritional and energy value; a poem or painting about the smell of favoured toppings; creative writing about the delight of food and the pain of clearing / washing up; even digestion and personal hygiene. the next day we might start with tigers and see where that took us. Planning a day like that is not needed, knowing how to live one is. Then came a different Head, a more structure curriculum and a day divided into discrete subjects with intense record keeping that did not allow me to adequately measure what I felt the children were becoming. I started to lose the spontaneous creative edge that made my teaching inspirational and joyful and the need to manage poor behaviour non-existent. So I left in the late 90s and took the fortunate opportunity to join the very creative team at the Ultralab and to design learning systems that were delightful and inspirational.

    I am not against teacher training at all but is the comparison with pilots and the long training needed mostly because of the complexities of planning and record keeping, measuring levels and the perceived need to understand theories many of which like brain gym (OMG brain gym!) or learning preferences / styles many of which are poorly founded and transient here today gone tomorrow stuff? Are the authorities too concerned with standardising the school experience? Its a rich diverse world full of individual children every one a little bit different to the next one, there is no one size fits all method that a rigid system can use to modify children to fit to inflexible metrics while maintaining happiness and engagement and maximising learning for all.

    Teacher training should bring out the best in trainees, it should encourage them to be idiosyncratic individuals rather than to feel a need to conform with a norm or to let their natural talents be overwritten. They need to have the freedom to be the wonderful real person they are, to make life at school enjoyable, to inspire children to want to be there, to offer and receive respect, to bring laughter and joy into play and leave a class so enthralled with their experience that they do not want the lesson to finish. That is kind of hard to teach as it comes from deep inside. I agree “learning is slippery, complex, nuanced, elusive and uncertain” so are teachers and so are children. Like Picasso a trained teacher can then spend a long time unlearning what they have been taught to do in order to re-learn the freedom and confidence needed to excel and to inspire others.


  5. iantindal says:

    you know when you wish you hadn’t hit post before checking what you have written – ye that just happened.


  6. Whooosure says:

    Posted to Facebook in Indiana. Thank you for writing his reflective, honest reflection about what education should be.


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