Should older teachers move over to let young ones in?

5th June 2009 at 01:00
Curriculum reforms may be too much for some teachers who have been over-long in profession

A scrappage scheme should be considered for older teachers, says the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Like the auto version, it would allow the profession "to grant a bus pass to some of our own tired models and to replace them with fresh new ones who are currently waiting patiently to be used (on the journey to excellence)", Tony Finn commented in motoring mode.

He told a GTCS conference on professionalism in teaching, held in Stirling last week, that the new curriculum reform was "a welcome professional opportunity for some teachers; for others, it appears to be a bridge too far".

Mr Finn said support should be available for teachers when necessary. That ought to be one of the key planks of their "professional culture", alongside "mutual respect, good teamwork (and) opportunities for individual creativity".

He warned, however, that there was another aspect to professionalism: "Teachers should be expected not only to attain a particular standard (for example, the Standard for Full Registration) but to maintain that standard and, if necessary, provide evidence that it has been maintained."

The conference, of which The TESS was media partner, also heard from Andy Hargreaves, an international authority on educational change, who urged teachers to accept that there were emotional and moral aspects to their job, as well as their skills, knowledge and experience. "The most effective teachers are those who exude enthusiasm, have a sense of humour, demonstrate fairness and don't give up on their pupils," he said.

Professor Hargreaves cited the "Jesuit pedagogy" behind the philosophy of the Catholic university where he works in Massachusetts, Boston College. Every new student is asked three questions which should also be at the heart of teachers' approach to their pupils:

- do you have a passion for something?

- are you good at it and CAN you become good at it?

- does it serve a compelling social need?

If the answer is yes to all of these, he continued, the Jesuit view is that "you will experience absolute joy".

But Professor Hargreaves cautioned against teachers giving way to "Oprah- style emotionalism", which would leave them and their pupils open to being "manipulable and manipulated, not tempered by measured judgment and understanding".

Neither should they be data-driven, leading to "robotic compliance with other people's agendas", he suggested.

Professor Hargreaves acknowledged that there were negative as well as positive factors which affect professional culture in teaching. These were influenced by whether teachers felt in tune with the "purposes" of what they were asked to do, whether they felt in "control" of their work or at the beck and call of others, and whether they had poor or non-existent "relationships" with those around them.

Collaborative activity was also important, he said, but teachers should be aware of "contrived collaboration" in which they were told what to collaborate on, when to collaborate, who to collaborate with - even what the results of the collaboration were expected to be.

The ultimate to which a teacher should aspire was to be an "extended professional", Professor Hargreaves continued. This involved going beyond the confines of their job, which could involve them challenging their colleagues if they were sarcastic or unfair.

David Cameron, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, warned that this would only be possible if people believed they were going to be treated fairly in a culture where everyone knew what the values of the school and authority were. "You can't just put it out there as a vision," he said. "It's got to be modelled so people can see it working in practice."

Professor Hargreaves noted that Finland, which regularly tops international tables on school performance, has no word in its language for "accountability". Their expression is "responsibility".

Graham Donaldson, head of the inspectorate, suggested this was "a false dichotomy". He added: "We all have a responsibility for what we do, to ourselves as well as to others. And if we are confident in the way we exercise our responsibilities, we accept that how we do it should be open to external scrutiny."

Many of the issues around professionalism would be aired in the HMIE series "Learning Together". The first report, Opening Up Learning, dealt with relationships of teacher to pupil, teacher to parent and teacher to data.

NEW TEACHERS HAILED

The GTCS conference followed research on the "professional culture" of new teachers, commissioned by the council (TESS November 14, 2008). This revealed that new entrants were better prepared than ever before, not just in their subject knowledge but in their grasp of teaching methodologies and pedagogy.

They were also found to be revitalising the school culture, getting involved far more than their older colleagues in extra-curricular activities, engaging with pupils more positively and embracing classroom observation.

But the report also found that there was a particular lack of professional support and development for teachers in the five years following their induction.

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