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Top Teachers Don’t Teach

There is no more pernicious idea in education than the idea that teachers should not teach.

Of course, it is never stated as explicitly as this, and there will be those who will reject outright that this is where their ideas and methods lead, convinced that their own particular variant of this noxious ideology is not actually all that noxious nor really an ideology.

Most commonly, we hear it expressed in the benign sounding context of empowerment, a romantic liberation of the constricted child from the chains of the didact – no mere brick in the wall shall they be – free to spread their wings and work out for themselves the intricacies of the Trinity, or the photosynthetic process; teacher talk is bad, oppressive, a cruelty inflicted on blossoming flowers not created for the passivity necessary in the act of listening to someone else speak for a bit; it is student-led learning, the independent and the free, that is Good.

When phrased in such way, and with such moral certitude, the possibility that these ideas might be rejected on philosophical grounds, because they are bad ideas, or on pragmatic grounds, because they are not really very effective strategies, is alien. Better by far to assume the recalcitrant lacks confidence, or capability, or a soul.

Well, if you wish to play like that, let us turn the tables: if you genuinely cannot comprehend that people might oppose student-led learning on firmer grounds than their own character flaws, then you yourself are intellectually stunted. And the responsibility for addressing that is more yours than it is mine.

Truth be told, this whole student-led gig is nothing but the desire to diminish the role of the teacher. It might be delivered in pious power ballads, evoking tear-jerking personal testimony of how Bob in Year 9 once explained the intricacies of quantum mechanics more effectively than I, the teacher, ever could have managed, as if this is a cause for celebration rather than concern. But at root it says nothing more than this: we don’t really need an expert sat at the front of the class. Or anywhere else, really.

No, in reality we are just dispensible task-setters, useful only up until that point at which someone else comes along and delivers tasks with more and better whizz-bangery, or fills in admin records more efficiently, or is willing to do longer hours and more break duties.

Maybe this is the result of weary necessity: the de-skilling of the profession and the institutional morale hit that has come with it. Maybe it is that lingering ‘progressive’ ideology that always was uncomfortable with traditional hierarchies of power. Maybe it is just lethargy, a profession seeking to take the line of least resistance against an OFSTED that, for want of anything insightful to write, reaches for the ‘too much teacher talk’ when struggling to fill in the blank space on their lesson observation forms. Maybe it is a wilful misunderstanding of the nature of teacher talk – truly a piece of theatre when done well – or maybe it is the perceived kudos that comes from appearing to be in control by, well, giving away control, avoiding the responsibility conferred by authority by reconfiguring the demands of that responsibility and the nature of that authority. After all, student-led learning is all fluffy and nice, and one must be terribly self-assured to do that kind of thing, no?

That it might not be all that effective? Pah. You’re missing the point. And who asked you anyway?

I dish out my fair share of stick to the NewTraddie herd for blithely indulging in their own sloganeering and tilting at their own windmills, but one response that cannot really be denied is this: that beyond the realms of the digital NewTraddie Wonderland, the Blob reigns supreme.

And it’s still telling teachers they shouldn’t teach. And I’m not really sure what our kids have got to gain from that. 
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