Mettle matters

16th July 2004 at 01:00
Second half

Advice for seasoned practitioners

Who's the saddest teacher you've ever met? My vote goes to the economics graduate teaching food technology, a victim of the great design technology revolution. (Other casualties were metalwork teachers, masters of hard discipline and caustic wit, smiting miscreants with red-hot iron bars.

Overnight, they became yesterday's men in deserted workshops among dust-sheeted lathes and drills.)

It's terrifying that, given the curricular upheaval which shows no sign of abating, it can happen to anyone. The TES website carried a complaint from a modern languages specialist who's been asked to take geography, and the plaintive cry of a physics teacher who says, "Physics just died in my schoolI I've been made redundant."

Nothing's ever going to stay the same. Single subjects will transmogrify into portmanteau "areas", languages will come and go, and the growth of ICT will make beginners of us all.

It's time, surely, for teachers to recognise that it's teaching and learning first and specialism second. Paul Cooper, head of design technology at Lawrence Sheriff school in Rugby, has seen it all, including the computer-induced death of technical drawing, a precise, quiet skill that suited many children so well. "We have loads of redundant drawing boards," he says. "Local firms try to give us theirs, but we don't want them either."

The challenge for leadership, he believes, is to work to strengths. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And offer professional development that highlights new ways forward.

"I did some in-service at Toyota Cars, with a mixed bag of teachers and technicians. They went away enthusiastic and keen to include some contemporary ideas and themes into their teaching."

The changing scene means you must be up to date with the latest thinking about learning, and keep "second" subjects polished and ready. It means looking at long-term trends: reading the runes in terms of option choices and exam structures, and trying to visualise the curriculum structure three or four years down the line. No matter how happy and well entrenched you feel in your specialist niche, just be aware not only that it can change, but that given time it probably will.

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