When you hear the word artisan what do you think of? Someone who is an expert in their craft, who is creative and cares deeply about what they do.
Such attributes can easily be applied to teachers.
In fact, that’s why at private Swiss boarding school Institut auf dem Rosenberg the decision was made in early 2019 to start referring to its teaching staff not as teachers, but as artisans, as director of the school, Bernhard Gademann, explains.
“This was something we had been thinking about for some time,” he says.
“We wanted to show our staff and the wider community that we believed the work they did was more than just ‘teaching’ in the traditional sense – reading from textbooks, rote learning, funnelling students through exams – and was something far more meaningful and valuable.”
They alighted on the word artisan because, as noted, it “fitted perfectly” to what they see as the fundamental skills teacher posses
1. They are experts in their craft
“Great teachers are not something that can be easily replaced by a machine, and their skill set can't be quickly learned by someone else,” he explains.
“They have deep subject knowledge, continually looking to improve their craft and they are adaptable to new challenges at a moment’s notice – as this year has shown especially.”
2. They are creative
The second point is that teachers look for creative, innovative and impactful ways to teach complex subjects.
“They adapt curricula and find ways to teach that match the ethos that the school strives for, while responding to the contemporary context – rather than simply rehashing the same lesson each year.”
3. They are caring
Lastly, just as the artisan baker or blacksmith cares deeply about their products, so too do teachers and their pupils, seeing them as far more than data points on a spreadsheet or as a set of exam results.
“They work with each student as an individual, wanting to see them succeed for that child’s specific development, and they craft the right learning environment to achieve this,” adds Mr Gademann.
Of course, as Mr Gademann asserts: “Any teacher reading this should rightly say, ‘I have these skills.’”.
After all, a teacher anywhere in the world must be an expert in what they do, be creative in how they teach and care for their pupils.”
However, he says his fear is that sometimes in the metric-driven focus of much of the world’s schooling, this view of what a teacher and the importance of their skills is overlooked or lost: “That is why I wanted to ensure that our staff knew we saw them as having a skill set that merited being referred to as an artisan.”
Why this matters
He believes this change in terminology is important now because of the rise in automation and artificial intelligence. After all, in a few years’ time such technologies may reach a point where it could – in a purely functional way – deliver education making teachers seem a luxury – and a costly asset.
But this would be to everyone’s detriment which is why Mr Gademann believes making this change in terminology is important, to ensure people understand the value of educators and all they do.
“I deeply believe that no system will be able to replace the learning experience provided by artisan teachers”, says Mr. Gademann.
How was it received?
Of course planning to introduce such a change is one thing - but it’s quite another to actually to do it.
After all, how would most teachers feel about being called artisans – some may relish the new term, others may be mystified. Mr Gademann says most staff were quick to get on board, although he acknowledges for some it was harder than others
“I had one artisan who emailed back and said they didn’t want the term on their email signature, not seeing it as right for their role. But I said they absolutely were an artisan and outlined why. I think, over time, all staff have now become comfortable with it – or see it as a badge of honour.”
Parents too had to be educated to this new terminology – but again the change was mostly a smooth and simple one.
“It can cause momentary confusion for prospective parents when we tell them they will meet the artisans on a school tour, and they say, ‘We’d rather meet the teachers’. But this is easily explained and quickly becomes natural to them, too.”
And the students? They still refer to their teachers as Mr or Mrs, so this did not pose a big change for them.
How was the change implemented?
The change was introduced slowly, gradually added to Rosenberg’s website, brochures, internal communications, business cards and email signatures whenever they needed updating, rather than being introduced in one overnight change.
In doing so, the staff and the wider community had time to grow accustomed to the change slowly.
“All this has made it a smooth and welcome change – and I think an important one”, says Mr. Gademann. “What’s more, our artisans like it, too."
Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes