The shape of dumber teachers to come

25th August 2006 at 01:00
* a train journey this summer, I was distracted from my book by a loud exchange between two young females. They were giving their schooldays a thorough forensic examination as they ranged through various topics. Some of their teachers received a right good hammering, and every subject in the school curriculum was given a rating. There was no respite. They were on a roll - and a noisy one at that.

Next on the agenda, amid much giggling, was a discussion about their qualifications. Between the two of them, they had managed to accrue one Standard grade at Credit 1 and then a mixture of 2s, 3s and 4s. Highers? It took both of them two years to scrape together university entrance qualifications. One of them announced quite happily that she had two attempts at passing Higher English before scraping a grade C.

Where is this going? To a very frightening place, I have to tell you, if you haven't already guessed. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I realised that they were both newly qualified teachers - one primary and one English teacher. Am I old-fashioned, in the light of this overheard conversation, to be concerned about the calibre of the teaching profession? Or should we not expect the highest standard of education from those who aspire to educating others?

Is it my imagination, or is it becoming clearer with every passing year that teachers used to be better educated? More was expected of yesterday's cohort of teachers than a few scraped C passes at Higher level. Assumptions were made that teachers would possess the highest standard of literacy.

Certainly in the case of my own children (the younger is aged 21), their primary school report cards were always written in excellent English with high standards of grammar.

Not so any more. I know of a primary head who has to check and correct most of the report cards written by her staff before they can be sent to parents. Her teachers are horrified - not ironically because of embarrassment regarding their inadequacies, but because they perceive their head to be checking up on them. That says it all, without need for any further fury and bombast.

But I can't seem to let it go. I look around for role models and wonder if intellectual gravitas is quickly becoming obsolete. Think of the recently broadcast conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush when it seemed that these guys spoke of momentous events in terms more associated with youngsters who text rather than communicate.

Our mocking reaction to that exchange would seem to indicate that we still value academic rigour and we recognise that world leaders need intellects bigger than Mickey Mouse.

Yet dumbing down seems pretty endemic, so why should teachers be exempt? Why should I have been goggling at the apparent inadequacies of my fellow travellers when I found out that they were newly qualified teachers? Let's pause and reflect. In common with many others, it was a painful experience to fail my driving test first time round. It was tempting to become paranoid and hopeless.

Instead, I changed my instructor and was stunned to find a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon between the two in terms of knowledge and teaching ability. Easy conclusion - if you want to be well taught, engage people with expertise. This applies to every area of life.

In a teaching era bedazzled by an approach characterised by a "one size fits all" compendium of classroom strategies, I wonder if we have lost the plot with regard to the importance of intelligence in our teachers. It takes more than the ability to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat to make a teacher who can communicate real knowledge. I took the train for a bit of peace that day - I ended up feeling huge disquiet.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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