Teaching: it should be scrutinised, but not standardised

Forcing teachers to teach a certain way and stick to a script marks the demise of creativity and natural flair – and it's pupils who suffer

Samantha Shearer

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Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis said: “True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”

Often the best of teachers are the ones we think of as being energetic, bubbly, maybe a bit eccentric, occasionally a maverick. They know their children, know their needs, know what makes them tick. They know how to help them to learn.

There are plenty of these people around; it is a joy to watch them teach, a joy to see their interactions with children and often a joy to look at the results that they produce from their children. Yes, good teaching will produce good results.

However, it perturbs me that we seem to have a new breed of leaders around. These leaders see education as a rigid confine designed to enable them to pass government tests. These leaders don’t instil a love of learning – quite the opposite, in fact. Children are drilled in skills and content, yet not allowed to experiment with any subject, given time to play with it, manipulate it, love it.

As a child, I wanted to write. Luckily, I am able to do so, albeit on a small scale. At school, I was allowed to play with writing, to develop my style and learn to love it. If I had gone through the current system, I would have ended up a better technician of the craft, granted, but it’s unlikely I’d love it as much as I do.

We’ve all heard the stories of pupils being turned into robotic writers, readers and mathematicians – all with an understanding of form, but without flair and real enjoyment.

What will become of this generation of robotic learners? What will they see when they look back over their school years? I think they’ll view it as dull, boring and joyless.

'Shackled by inflexible pedagogy'

It’s happening everywhere. And at low-attaining, underperforming schools – those often with high numbers of pupil-premium children – pupils who don't get that love of learning from home are missing out.

These failing schools then become projects for high-flying executive headteachers who see standardising the pedagogy as a simple and efficient way to run them.

This leads to teachers who have vibrant personalities, who have the potential to bring flair into their classrooms, starting their careers being told how to teach each core subject with extreme rigidity. When they are observed, if they deviate from the path, they are slated and "supported" with a type of conversion therapy that ensures that they follow the dictated style, path, content. If they don’t, they’re "failing" as a teacher.

This is a terrifying development, but it's becoming a more prevalent course. I have seen great teachers with fabulous ideas about how to impart knowledge to their children shackled with an inflexible pedagogic approach.

For one individual leader, using a one-size-fits-all approach across a number of low-attaining schools is easier to manage. There is a good argument for standardising some aspects of managing a number of settings, but teaching styles and approaches, isn’t that sacrosanct?

We all remember the teacher who managed to engage us, who was funny, eccentric, a good listener, who unlocked the door for us by understanding how we learnt. They were able to devise devious learning challenges and creative activities that enticed us into a world of knowledge and wonder.

Expecting teachers to teach in a specific fashion, to a script and to the tightest of timings, does not allow for that.

It’s another layer of disadvantage to our most vulnerable children and must not be allowed to happen. Teachers must teach, children must learn, how we do it should, of course, be scrutinised, but never standardised.

Samantha Shearer is a deputy head in England. She tweets @educationisthe1

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