Everyone who comes into teaching is likely to have had a rationale for doing so; it is not really one of those jobs one falls into accidentally. Having been involved in interviewing prospective ITE trainees, with two universities, an important aspect is to determine the underlying reasons for wanting to become a teacher. Somewhere in the mix is a liking for children, as well as an enjoyment of learning, for a specific subject or more generally. The 18 or 19 year old, possibly older with mature entrants, will bring with them a significant number of years of experience, with 13 of them having been spent in formal education settings for BA(QTS); PGCE plus 3 years.
They embark on an Initial Teacher Education course that lasts between 1 and 4 years. In that time they will have at least two, possibly up to four different experiences in school. They come out as largely formed teachers, with the schools within which they pursue their career being the test bed within which they will harden up their formative thinking. The one essential constant is a desire to become a teacher and a belief in themselves in that role. The personal belief in ability is a significant driver in performance.
They need to have professional status, be ordered and organised, know their stuff and know how to best get it across to their audience, the children, sometimes having to interpret the same ideas in different ways. They also need the skills to fully investigate and address anomalies.
Recently, as the current half term has evolved over a couple of weeks, and a chance to watch a number of history based TV programmes, on the Celts and the Hundred Years’ War, coupled with reading several vitriolic exchanges, I was moved to go back to my original musings on the nature of belief in teaching.
Education has had a long history of pseudo-polarisation. Although the bread and butter of teaching and learning is, and always has been, the transfer of information from one generation to another, talk of traditional and progressive would appear to have more than a century of history, with classicists probably able to tell me that this has been the case for a couple of millennia. I blame the philosophers.
Anyone reading my blog would surmise that I am and always have been of a more progressive nature. I have always had an eclectic interest in a wide range of subjects, know that I have occasionally a slightly oblique view of things, and have been described on occasions as a “lateral thinker”. However, in the classroom, I would always argue that I have sought to deploy the best methodology necessary for each group of children in any class to make the maximum progress while they were my responsibility. I can remember classes where my dominant approach was traditional, and many others whose independence allowed them to take greater responsibility within tasks. One thing I found was that my teacher life was easier with more independent children in the class.
The school ethos, which is fundamentally an overarching belief system to which the teaching staff are appointed, will articulate preferred approaches to learning and teaching, so will have a bearing on the personal approach in the classroom. As long as this is very clear before interview, there should be no ambiguity, but I have a vivid memory of an error of judgement on my part, which meant that I stayed in a school for only one year. The clash of ideologies was too great to bridge and it didn’t help, professionally or personally, to be in an “or else” situation.
We develop our underpinning belief systems from a broad range of experiences, a large number from our life experiences, but also through formal training, reading, listening and working with others, and joining in communal sharing opportunities. We accord certain colleagues additional status, as they share their developed or developing experience. Some among us are braver than others to try out ideas, to take risks within the learning situation, in an attempt to maximise the learning opportunities, based on a good knowledge of the children.
I have always enjoyed listening to others talk about their experience, particularly if this was a complete narrative, not just the highlights and the special outcomes. The processes underpinning the achievements are as important as the outcomes themselves, especially if one is looking for replicability. Copying may not be the best option. I would argue that all CPD is valuable, if it makes you think, as in all learning. If I left a meeting with a nugget to pursue, I felt happy.
The prescription and proscription of approaches that can appear to have been embedded in the political rhetoric, over the more recent past, has become the background to many of the arguments that can erupt on Twitter.
Each of us is unique in our personal lives. Although we may experience similar events, each will be nuanced and builds into our psyche preferences and reference points. Where some approaches have been seen by some as strengthening their position and therefore their belief in themselves, they are emboldened to challenge others. “Prove it, prove it”, is the often heard cry. There may be some “truths” that hold on the balance of proofs, but, like all things educational, children don’t always subscribe to the prevailing truths, so the teacher needs to explore “off piste” with groups or specific individuals. The “proof” may sometimes have to rest with the outcome evidence.
There is a character played by Kenneth Williams in the 1960s programmes “Round the Horne” and “Beyond out Ken” (see pic above), J Peasemold Gruntfuttock, who, each week ‘ssumed a title, he was “self-appointed”, the greatest being the “King of Peasemoldia”. On one occasion he was a Witchfinder General. When I see Twitter spats emerging, I sometimes caricature argumentative participants in similar fashion, which may not be fair to either, but it helps to limit my involvement.
One thing that I know for certain, after forty plus years in education, is that I can’t and don’t know it all and it is not possible to do so. I have only lived my experience. And if I could do it again, I would, but I’d like to start from where I am now, not my earlier self. I’d be much better.
I have always reserved the right to be a “Doubting Thomas”, seeking clarifications and seeing with my own eyes that which is claimed “to work”. In my experience, I have seen some very strange things be made to work, by creative teachers who developed the holistic approach to go with the basic idea. One has only to look at the range of available Maths concrete apparatus to see a wide range of approaches.
I need to see the rationale, the processes and the outcomes to be able to judge for myself. I don’t need gurus, to copy slavishly, but I do need clarity of vision, which comes from clarity of explanation. I am not a fundamentalist in any area, use teacher-centred approaches along with child-centred approaches, selected to the needs of the children at a particular point in time. Timely teaching is an essential good. Use and application might require a more open ended approach to enable clarity in seeing what a child can do unaided.
It is a matter of balance, but with the over-riding need being the needs of the child within the learning context.
To talk without a receptive audience may not lead to learning.