Portrait of the teacher as an artist in transformation

16th February 1996 at 00:00
It seems extraordinary and alarming to me (a one-time teacher in eight different kinds of school, adviser and teacher-trainer) that, in all this debate about teacher-competence and pupil-achievement, there has been no vehement emphasis on the art of teaching.

There is an absolute necessity for teachers to establish, day in, day out, a sensitive interaction with scores of children, many conditioned by family, environment and prospects against school and teachers. To achieve this, the teacher-artist, like all artists, works by rule and inspiration. For many years, rule has been lauded, inspiration scarcely considered or, if noticed, disparaged as in some way subversive ("like the Sixties"). Teachers' morale is low for many reasons, one of which is that the artistic core of their calling has been neglected or denied. Unless their love of practising their art can be restored, teaching generally will decline and children's standards, which encompass test scores and an understanding of humane values, will not rise.

Most inspectors left teaching years ago - how were they rated in the classroom in those far-off days, one wonders - in their search for mandarin status? Do they not realise that the gauges they take into schools do not register many of the most important skills, sensitivities and flair which make a class hum and the teacher prize his vocation? When an inspector enters a class, what really goes on stops; the rapport between artist and his or her participating "public" is broken.

Most of the inspectorate team should be experienced, practising teachers, moved sideways to the inspectorate for three or four years and then returned to the classroom. And "experienced" does not mean "old". Then we might gain from the inspectorate's reports an inkling of what is going on in schools, not only the easily noticed and firmly recorded achievements which many schools have learnt to exhibit to the judging world but some of the deft touches, rarely noticed and grudgingly acknowledged for their worth when they are, by which artists in their trade frequently transform the lives of children for the better.

GEORGE BAMBRIDGE 40 Rosamond Road Bedford

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