I teach primary, no, really

28th January 2011 at 00:00

If you're short of a new year's resolution, I have a couple of suggestions. First, if you send your children to private school, resolve never to say: "I'm paying for their education twice." This is mathematically offensive to me.

I suppose that if you had one child and sent them to private school, you might almost justify it arithmetically, unless you were an expert at tax avoidance. Supposing, however, you had two children and paid for both of them to be educated privately: you would not be paying any more tax than if you had one child, so it would be fairer to say that you were paying for each of their schooling one and a half times.

If you have an infinite number of children, by the "paying twice" logic, each gets an effectively free state education, whereas if you don't have any offspring and don't send any to private school, you should go around saying: "I have zero children, and I'm paying for their education once."

If you had "n" children in private education, it might be simpler to say: "I'm paying for `n' children to be educated and contributing to a more educated society through my taxes."

What I'd really like people to stop saying, and it usually comes from people in some fairly powerful management or government role in education, is the glib, ill-considered old cliche: "Secondary teachers teach subjects. Primary teachers teach children."

"Hello, Mr Steele, I'm your son's primary teacher."

"What subjects has he been doing with you?"

"How dare you. I must ask you to leave."

That was a reconstruction of an incident that never happened, by the way. While primary teachers might be offended at the thought that they don't actually teach anything, when I was a secondary teacher it hacked me off that there were those who believed that I didn't teach anyone.

My scientific training came to the fore. I was able to observe that there were 20 children in front of me and that, after a time, they were able to do things that they couldn't do before. I generally knew their names, who they were comfortable working with, and even some of their outside interests. (OK, there were times when this didn't happen - social education classes in the 1980s come to mind - but to use them as evidence that I taught subjects not children, you would have to invoke the kind of methodologies used to justify homeopathy. I can say with a 95 per cent confidence limit that I taught children.)

I love my subject, and when I was effective as a teacher it was probably more because I loved my subject than because of touchy-feely people skills. However, I did choose to teach that subject to children, so I must have liked them too. It's hard to comprehend why a large number of secondary teachers have eschewed higher-paid, less stressful jobs to teach if they are all obsessed by their disciplines and have no interest in children as people.

Gregor Steele has also resolved to promote physics as the new rock and roll in 2011.

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