Chartered teachers meet their match

26th February 2010 at 00:00

On February 12 The TESS contained an interesting news item entitled "Chartered teachers urged to speak out". Strangely, though, it did not contain any comment from a chartered teacher. May I remedy this?

It indicated that chartered teachers should be prepared to "challenge" those in authority. Fair enough, one might say, given that the Standard for Chartered Teacher indicates they should consistently "articulate a personal, independent and critical stance in relation to contrasting perspectives on educational issues, policies and developments".

But what happens when those in a position of authority are on the receiving end of such a critique from a chartered teacher? To any colleagues contemplating such a move, I would refer them to the advice of that eminent authority on life, Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: "Hey! Let's be careful out there!"

What, for example, if criticism is directed at the academic community which is supposedly in favour of chartered teachers "articulating a critical stance"? My experience suggests that a chartered teacher can expect brickbats rather than bouquets.

One of the main architects behind the original Standard for Chartered Teacher - a professor of education and a very likeable man - took umbrage at my suggestion that a cherished academic initiative was having next to no impact on classroom practices. His view, though, was supported by the mainly academic audience, some of whom subjected me to a round of mild booing. Blessed with broad shoulders, I just shrugged this off. But it is easy to imagine that more sensitive colleagues would find such a response unsettling.

And what of those who are in authority? Well, one can meet the standard by "being resourceful and positive and adopting a solution-focused approach" - and receive both brickbats and bouquets! The introduction of an e- learning initiative has received bouquets of praise both from HMIE for "driving forward innovative approaches" and from a GLOW senior adviser for the quality of the materials produced. But when I questioned this initiative, it was ill-received from those in authority, and I stand accused of being "disputatious".

My defence that it is the duty of a chartered teacher to adopt a "personal, independent and critical stance" has fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, I am warned against taking such a stance. Rather, I am advised that I should concentrate on "delivering" the curriculum as it stands.

But merely delivering a curriculum is not what chartered teachers are about. In her influential book The Activist Teaching Profession, Judyth Sachs advocates that teachers move from "old professionalism", whereby they are content to query how best to implement initiatives mooted by those in authority, to "transformative professionalism", whereby they regard themselves as the authority and take prime responsibility for innovation. At present, though, such an approach to innovation receives a mixed response.

Even so, on these pages a few years ago, Walter Humes argued that "teachers need to be encouraged to interrogate the dominant policy discourses more critically . We all need to show greater courage in addressing the big issues of our time." So, colleagues, take courage and engage critically with new practice, research and policy. But be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Antony Luby is a chartered teacher in Aberdeen and a Fellow of the College of Teachers.

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