I could stop right there and leave that question to be discussed until the end of time but, having put it out there, it’s only fair that I provide an answer or at least my own thoughts on the subject. Bear in mind I didn’t ask what makes a ‘good’ teacher. I don’t want to spark a debate on why people choose to join the teaching profession but where do D&T teachers come from (not in the biblical sense) and what makes a person want to teach this subject?
As children, some of us may have had a penchant for learning how things work. I know that, as a child, my favourite toy was a screwdriver! Perhaps we grew up in a technological age and actually stopped to admire the beauty and awe of technology rather than letting it simply fly past. Some may have displayed a natural talent for creative design and perhaps found the freedom of expression in art subjects lacked the focus that D&T offers. Were some of us disillusioned with industry and/or had a burning desire to try to ‘change the lives of young people’? Perhaps we like deadlines, crafting, marking holistically or a multitude of other skills that benefit this particular area of teaching. I’m sure there are even a few who went into this at a time when teaching was considered a stable and respectable career and D&T just happened to be the best/easiest subject to study. Only you know which of these most closely describes you or the D&T teachers you know.
What about the skills necessary to be an effective D&T teacher? After all design is a particularly inspirational pursuit and the technicalities of delivering the subject require a particular type of individual. For any non-D&T readers consider this list of possible attributes:
A D&T teacher needs to be able to function as a one man (or woman) department as student numbers or the school require but equally they need to work effectively as part of a team; either within the department or as a part of a larger creative faculty. In some schools it’s with the arts, in others with science. You will need to be adaptable.
That individual would need to have a solid understanding of the design process irrelevant of materials specialism but be able to contribute to most areas of the subject from late Key Stage 2 up to Advanced Level; preparing students to step into a degree level course. Knowledge of a great many other subject areas is also beneficial but I have already covered that in a previous blog.
They have to be able to inspire young students to take their first tentative steps towards independent creative thought, to encourage them even when they appear to have no creative skills whatsoever. They have to be aware of the health and safety risks involved from using a pencil sharpener to wielding a brazing torch and a lot more in between and ensure all their students use tools and machinery safely.
They may have to be able to perform basic repairs, maintain tools and machinery and use all of the equipment available or be prepared to stand like a limbless cadaver in front of a class of eager pupils should the technician take a day off.
That individual needs to be a competent artist or visual communicator with a solid grasp of ICT and able to use a range of CAD software but always have a backup plan for the days when the school network goes down.
And yet ‘they’ (you know who you are) say that D&T is an easy subject, shame on them. Perhaps the best INSET would be to swap roles in the school for a day; creative for non-creative. Now I have covered a multitude of subjects in my time but very few have ever come close to bringing me to my knees in despair yet even after almost a quarter of a century teaching D&T I am still filled with dread when entering a strange workshop to meet a class of energetic students eager to start ‘making’. There are so many variables and complexities from operating machinery you are not familiar with to finding where the hand tools are stored. Trust me, it’s a darn sight more demanding than trying to find text books and lined paper.
Which is what is often expected when you cover a more ‘academic’ lesson where you will probably be expected to deliver material from the curriculum; possibly with a test and homework. However, your cover work for D&T may be limited to ‘get on with some drawing’ or other safe task. Not because you are too lazy to set substantial work (wink, wink), but because the staff covering may not be confident, competent or insured to deliver the technical aspects of the subject nor have the skills necessary to deliver a creative lesson.
Creativity does not have defined boundaries or limits. What one student can produce in 1 hour may be considerably more imaginative and creative than another can achieve in a month. The instinctive problem solving aspects of design are in our DNA while maths, science and technology have to be learnt. Because of this we are all inherently creative; it’s just how it is nurtured and developed in each individual. Many ‘academics’ struggle to quantify this, but for D&T teachers it’s all part of the job.
So, what makes a design and technology teacher? Well, quite a lot it would seem. What makes a good D&T teacher is a discussion for another time and best avoided for fear of offending anyone, myself included. What is for sure is that the subject will struggle to survive without good, adaptable D&T teachers who are willing to push the boundaries of accepted good design. Teachers who embrace technology and truly inspire their pupils to believe that they can shape the future while giving them the skills and encouragement to do so.
Perhaps I did answer my own question after all.
Paul has taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty. He writes and illustrates children's books and works as an examiner and moderator of resistant materials for the AQA.
His Subject Genius blog is shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.