Why we shouldn't have it all off Pat

14th March 2008 at 00:00
There's something wrong if teachers are now little more the deliverers of curriculum packages

A decade ago the then Teacher Training Agency's recruitment slogan was: "No one forgets a good teacher". While there is some truth in this statement, it is equally true to say that, "Everybody remembers a bad teacher". Good teachers may be easily forgotten.

In fiction, memorable teachers tend to be the exception: the eponymous Mr Chips and Jean Brodie; Mr Thackeray in To Sir, with Love; John Keating in Dead Poets Society; Hector in The History Boys and all of the teachers at Hogwarts. But, in reality, while the names of the exceptional, idiosyncratic and eccentric are remembered, the names of effective, dedicated teachers are more likely forgotten.

Conversely, I would argue that everyone can remember a bad teacher, who had effects as lasting as those of the good teacher. Clearly our schools are not filled with bad teachers. The majority are "good" - as the 20067 annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector confirms. However, the judgements made by Ofsted are premised upon the flawed model of the teacher that underpins the national curriculum.

The National Curriculum brought with it the term "delivery". Many teachers resisted the use of this word in educational contexts for years, but it is now ubiquitous. Elliot Eisner, of Stanford University, reminds us that the metaphors we use "shape our conception of the problems we study". A delivered curriculum does not imply the need for a thinking teacher who is developing critical thinking in pupils. Rather, the teacher is required to be little more than an educational Postman Pat delivering packages of curriculum content. Perhaps this is understandable when Lord Dearing, the man charged with overseeing the introduction of the national curriculum, had previously been chief executive of the Post Office.

The emphasis in the national curriculum is upon knowing and doing without equal emphasis on being and becoming. This has encouraged teachers to focus upon what the learner knows, understands and can do at the expense of a consideration of who the learner is and might become.

Such a model of the teacher has ramifications for the type of newly qualified teacher to be developed on pre-service courses. The driving force for the changes to teacher education in the 1990s resulted from government policy derived from writers associated with the New Right, who argued that student teachers needed to be trained what to teach rather than how to teach.

It is common for official documents and texts on teacher development to use the terms "teacher education" and "teacher training" as if they are interchangeable. However, education and training are two very different processes, and each term implies the user's underlying conception of teacher development.

Roses and fruit trees are trained to grow in externally pre-determined ways. Seals and other animals are trained to perform set routines without error. German Shepherd dogs are trained to respond in precise ways to given stimuli. While it cannot be denied that there is a body of knowledge to be understood and skills to develop, teachers should not be trained: they should be educated. Working in school, teachers need to exercise judgement related to teaching and learning that is a synthesis of their experience, skills, knowledge, understandings, their values and beliefs. This synthesis is the product of critical reflection, not training. I have yet to encounter a reflective police dog.

To accept a model of the teacher as one who only delivers a curriculum is to deny the professionalism of the teacher and reduce teacher education to the production of skilled technicians.

On the other hand, if we focus on the teacher as professional, we need to address issues about human development and the purposes of education. These issues, far from being marginal, should be at the centre of teacher education. Without them, teaching becomes a mechanical skill, which is unable to promote or enhance personalised learning or the Every Child Matters agenda that the New Labour government favours. The teacher's role is not simply limited to the systematic transmission of knowledge in a school. Professional teachers are aware of the larger social setting, have the flexibility to anticipate change, to adapt their methods to new demands, and, indeed, when it is appropriate to challenge the requirements placed upon them.

To produce such teachers, there is a need to strike a balance between a focus on the development of competence to achieve standards and raising student teachers' awareness about the meaning of their role. This balance may be achieved by encouraging student teachers to see daily teaching in the perspective of larger theories of human development.

Some of my research in the last decade has investigated students' reasons for coming into teaching. The overwhelming majority write about "love of subject", "enthusiasm", "empathy", "a desire to share the love of subject" or "to be of service" to others. All these reasons are founded upon strongly held beliefs and values. As yet not one student teacher has expressed a desire to "deliver a lesson".

I am totally committed to raising standards of education in schools and in teacher education. It cannot be denied that the last two decades have seen some improvements in pupil achievement. However, there has been a significant loss.

Governments have lost sight of the real significance of the teacher's role in society. As AV Kelly, author of The Curriculum: Theory and Practice, has written, "education is both a moral and a practical imperative in a democratic society".

The work teachers do every day transcends the narrow political imperative of improved Sats results. Every day they "touch the future". While literacy and numeracy might be considered important aspects of schooling, the Government needs to recognise the real importance of the work teachers do. As the eminent psychologist BF Skinner observed: "Education is what survives when what has been learnt is forgotten."

- This article is based on a public lecture given by Professor Davison in Canterbury on Wednesday. See www.canterbury.ac.ukeventspubliclectures.

Jon Davison, Professor of teacher education at Canterbury Christ Church University.

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