Spontaneous. Unpredictable. Avant-garde.
Just some words to describe a lesson with a teaching maverick.
Every team has one, or at least they used to. To teaching, what Eric Cantona was to Manchester United. A flair player.
My favourite maverick at school was Mr “JJ” Johnston (pictured in 2001). A tall, bearded intellectual who always carried a rather regal briefcase and whose lessons were tangents within themselves. Oh, but did we learn, and did we flourish. Debates, conjecture and educational chivalry all took place within stark temporary classrooms with little heating.
We all have teachers we remember. More often than not, they were the good ones. The ones who left an indelible mark on our young souls and sent us off into the world with a spark of interest. However, just as in the realms of football, a classroom genius can be as unconventional, temperamental, bloody minded and mind bogglingly creative as Zidane or Maradona. A nightmare to play (or teach) with but a joy to watch when “on their game”.
It’s one of the great tragedies of this era, that these immense talents are being cajoled, bullied, dismissed and undermined out of this most noble of the professions by those with a ruthless belief in the new perverted science of “progress”.
Sure, they can change the lives of young people in one 60-minute lesson but if they can’t deliver at least nine sub levels of “progress” towards some unimaginatively narrow testing structure, then the axe will, sooner or later, fall. In an educational environment where measuring is everything, these eccentric characters have become educational pariahs. The memory of them now serves as a bittersweet memorial to a bygone era of teacher freedom.
To replace them; some heroic young things, wheeled off an assembly line to have their originality punched out of them by data fanatics desperate for uniformity. Most will conform, some will leave and a few will survive with their teacher selves intact, but only by accepting their destiny doesn’t lie in the corporate world of academy leadership.
Alas, I have to reveal the double agent in our midst. A man who has done more to crush the mavericks than most, yet publicly eulogises about them. The kingpin: Sir Michael Wilshaw. You may be forgiven for thinking, based on the fact that Ofsted’s policies for the past 20 years have purged the teaching world of so many of these teacher “types”, that he would fully support “the great purge”. But wait, listen to Sir Michael talk to TES about his favourite teacher when he was at school:
“Mr Pocock used straightforward didactic teaching – he’d get this little yellow exercise book that he said would be the guarantee of O-Level success, and all he did was dictate from it while we tried to keep up. But occasionally, one lesson in every three, he would say, 'No yellow book today, boys, I’m going to talk to you about something'. He would stand in front of the class in his gown, put his hand up and say 'pax'. We were 11 years old; we didn’t understand what 'pax' meant. But he would just stand there. That’s all he had to do. He had a bristling little moustache and slicked black hair; every inch the military-type figure."
Spontaneous. Unpredictable. Avant-garde. Wouldn’t you say?