Stop talking 'at' teachers and listen to them instead

When it comes to big issues in education, teachers are the experts – they shouldn't be ignored, says Mark Enser
13th December 2020, 8:00am
Mark Enser


Stop talking 'at' teachers and listen to them instead
Please Listen To Teachers: Teachers Are The Experts In Education, Says Mark Enser

Back in 2018, I wrote an article at this time of year expressing my Christmas wish: that people would stop taking good ideas and making them worse. 

Since I wished it really hard, on a shooting star and everything, I am assuming that this problem is now fixed, so I would like to make a new Christmas wish: please listen to teachers. 

The need for people to listen to teachers was made very clear as the horror show of 2020 unfolded and every person with a Twitter account felt they could wade in on the correct way to teach via remote learning, whether schools had enough staff in to run them or if pupils in classrooms could be socially distanced. 

Please listen to the teachers

More recently, we have had to listen as they have told us what should happen with exams next year. 

Although thrown into sharp relief by recent events, this is not a new phenomenon. 

People from outside of education often feel the need to lecture us on the content of our curriculum, usually extolling us to include their own area of interest into an already crammed school day, or insisting that we change the way we teach to fit their own view of the world. 

Add in opinion pieces on uniform, behaviour and issues around sex education, and the clamour of voices can be both deafening and exhausting. 

Experts being marginalised

The voice that too often gets drowned out is the one coming from the person best placed to know what is really going on in our classrooms, that of the teacher. 

As a teacher, we have education in pedagogy and then years of experience of putting it into practice. Hopefully, we have been given opportunities to reflect on what we do, discuss it with others and work together to solve problems as they arise. 

No one knows for sure how remote learning should look, but the person who is most likely to figure it out isn't a media commentator, or politician, but a teacher. 

Ask a teacher

If you want to know whether schools are "Covid-safe", you don't need to pontificate from a position of ignorance. Give teachers the information on what makes a place Covid-safe and then ask them whether schools meet that criteria. Then believe them. 

If you want to know whether pupils have had a consistent enough experience this year to sit exams, you could ask the people who know. That'll be teachers again. 

The problem is, teachers are rarely given a platform to share their experiences and knowledge with others. It is one reason why I am always grateful that Tes publishes articles from those still in the classroom. This seems to be an exception rather than a rule in the wider world. I have lost count of the number of panel discussions I have seen that are discussing an educational topic without one serving teacher in sight. This needs to change. 

Advice not instruction

This is not to say that those outside the classroom should be ignored. There are those who spent decades teaching and amassed a wealth of experience that they can draw on when offering advice. Other people have particular expertise in specific areas that can be of use to teachers who are general practitioners. Their advice, too, can be invaluable. 

But that is what it should be, advice. Not instruction. They don't necessarily have enough knowledge of the whole system and how what they want will impact elsewhere. The people who can see that? Teachers again. 

So, that is my Christmas wish. I would like to see the voices of teachers come to the fore in 2021. We might need to shout to be heard, so we need to shout. Write for publications, write books, record podcasts, get on to panels and attend conferences if and when you can. Call out those who would speak for us and represent us badly. Turn up the volume. 

Mark Enser is head of geography and research lead at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex. His new book, Powerful Geography: curriculum with purpose in practice, is out soon. He tweets @EnserMark 

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