Dignity and Teacher Status.

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When I thought about the topic for Blogsync this month, I couldn’t really come up with anything to add to the comments I have written in my previous post on the reasons for a new professional teacher body – https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/a-royal-college-of-teaching-a-view-from-the-grass/ – but recent events have added to this thinking.

I’m not going to go into events yesterday except to say that I did not leave the exchange without reason to look at myself for blame. Others have recently commented on their feelings of sadness as twitter users – tweachers – have begun to turn on one another in attacks on differences of opinion. Sue Cowley wrote of her increasing sense of isolation from the gangs and cliques emerging. Ian Gilbert noted a nastiness in the air. And I, have on more than one occasion, contributed to that nastiness. It is one of the curses of academia to challenge others when it might be best to remain silent. There have been times, in recent weeks where this challenge has been belligerent and at some points plain insulting. I didn’t need an alter ego to do this for me – it’s there in black and white in my own name. Events yesterday have brought into sharp focus for me the fact that the biggest barrier to our status as professionals is our own infighting and bickering.

Let’s give a few examples:-

Teach First v PGCE

There have been many exchanges on twitter about who gets to wear the badge of ‘best trained’ teacher. Charges of elitism are directed one way and of mediocrity the other. Insults are the spades with which trenches are dug. As ever, the picture is much more complex.

The training on the PGCE I did at a Russell Group University was rubbish if I’m honest, but in the same year, a fellow trainee from the Poly down the road had a great experience. In the interim 20 years I imagine both courses have changed a lot. We can’t base our assumptions on our own experiences – even if those experiences are recent. You can’t know what is happening in the institution or even the classroom next to you.

If I were 21 now, or older, with the same degree from the same university that I had then, but with the added burden of a £30,000 debt around my neck, I would jump at the chance of Teach First. It is not the fault of the people who choose to apply, that there are unfortunate connotations associated with the name or doubts about the marketing of the programme. Instead of arguing with each other about ‘best routes’ we should be considering how to ensure that there is parity of access, expense and opportunity. While trainees and teachers have slugged it out in unsightly and ugly battles, the government have quietly dismantled and brought into disrepute some excellent PGCE courses, including those at Oxbridge. Our status will not be raised unless we start to see teacher training as a life long exercise and one in which a deep and abiding interest in and knowledge of children is every bit as  important as knowledge of subject (I would actually say more important than – but you can argue with me!). Laura McInerney’s blog on Teach First myths was really helpful http://lauramcinerney.com/2013/05/29/top-5-myths-about-teachfirst/ and it is worth looking at some of the Outstanding inspections reports given to institutions like the IoE and MMU to better understand how PGCEs might impact on the process. All access to teaching routes should be free of fees, in the same way that the NHS subsidises the training of its future professionals. Campaigning for this might be a better way to raise our sense of professional unity.

The point here is that to raise the status of the profession, we cannot afford to allow the impression that some teachers are better than others – purely by virtue of the route they took into teaching – to take hold.

Behaviour

Some children in many schools behave in a way which is difficult to manage. We seem to be fixed on the idea that this is either true or not. Of course it is true. I’ve made my own thoughts on this problem quite clear. The issue is not whether there IS bad behaviour, but why and how best to handle and manage it. As a profession, this means engaging with cultural, social, neurological and psychological contexts. It also means expecting a clear steer and whole school consistency from teachers and leaders. Why do we argue about this? Let’s instead share our ideas – this will create the impression that we are a solution focused profession. Let’s stop blogging about awful behaviours (or worse, children) we encounter, and instead blog about the things that have worked for us – in that context at that time – and build a body of expertise. If we approach our practice in this way, we do not leave the door open for the media to quote us in over-simplified rants about the country going to the dogs.

Knowledge

Knowing your Shakespeare from your Dickens is knowledge. Being able to solve a quadratic equation is knowledge. Recognising diffraction patterns is knowledge. We need knowledge. Pedagogy is knowledge. We need that too. And we need to recognise that knowledge and purpose are best connected. Consider this quote:-

‘Knowledge alone is insufficient. Knowledge also requires an apprenticeship to evolving practice. This practice is not a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of experimental doing and acting, when knowledge is not enough, when knowledge fails. A gardener on a new hill in changing climate. A cyclist going beyond her limits on a hill taken too fast. A teacher in front of a new class each new day… A writer essaying the next sentence…The first day without a loved one…and the hundredth. A scientist with new results.’ (Williams 2013)

These examples show us that the argument is not and should not be about knowledge versus skills, but about the knowledge based development of skill. The cyclist with a basic knowledge of momentum combined with the experience of braking on hills will fare better in this new context. The gardener who can distinguish between acidic and alkaline soil and who knows which plants will resist the wind or drought in this new climate and garden will fare better. Knowledge through application leads to the development of skill and good judgement. Why are we arguing about that? Couldn’t we instead share our ideas of contexts and events and scenarios which help children to learn their knowledge in a future oriented mode? Wouldn’t this be more useful? And surely this, not entrenched positions, will raise the status of the profession?

Fiddling while Rome Burns

There is an enemy in our midst. It’s not that tweacher you disagree with. It’s not Michael Gove. It’s not the parent sneering in the Daily Mail. It is the fundamental flaw of short term party politics which drives our democracy. Politicians interested in ensuring their re-election are focused on crowd pleasing and headline grabbing. Some make decisions sometimes that happily bring their own motives and the needs of children closer together. Most don’t. Until we have a professional, independent body managing pedagogy, policy and professional accountability – a body run by teachers, for the benefit of children, we will get nowhere. And we are on the road to nowhere because we (myself included) are not proving ourselves worthy of the trust of such a position.

So I say again, that we do need a college for teachers – I would support the idea of a Chartered College personally, but then the name is not the most important thing in the end – the autonomy, purpose and pedagogical mastery, to borrow from Daniel Pink’s brilliant work on motivation, will raise our performance. And raised performance will lead to raised status. And in the meantime, we need to get out of the gutter and show the world what we are capable of when we all act together.

References:-

Williams, J (2013) Time and Education in the Philosophy of Giles Deleuze, in Deleuze and Education, Eds Masny, D and Semetsky, I, Edinburgh University Press.

Pink, D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

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7 thoughts on “Dignity and Teacher Status.

  1. The impression I get, rightly or wrongly, is that our teaching unions are withering away and becoming less effective. I don’t know about all schools but in my area very few have union reps. Is this a reflection on teachers changing attitudes, on concerns over jobs or the failure of unions to work as one, with a united front?

  2. Hi Debra,

    I think you make a lot of well reasoned and thoughtful observations here. There’s much that I agree with. I wanted to thank you for pointing out Laura’s blog post. I hadn’t come across it previously, and I think Laura did a fantastic job of outlining some of the major myths. I’m really glad you found it insightful. I did actually just post a fairly lengthy comment in response to Tom Sherrington’s suggestion that the commitment should be lengthened to 3 or 5 years, rather than 2. In my reply I also outlined, or at least tried to outline, some of my own thinking when it came to joining TF, and also in part where I think the value of the 2-year commitment is grossly misunderstood by people who entered teaching through a traditional route, and who entered teaching already confident that they wanted to be a teacher. Maybe it could further add something to your understanding of TF teachers?

    There are three challenges I would like to put forward, having read through the post:

    The first regarding PGCEs and TF: while much of this is far more measured that what I’ve seen from some tweachers of late, I have to note that personally I haven’t seen any TF teacher accuse people on PGCE routes of being mediocre, and I find it hard to imagine happening. For one, who do you suppose is responsible for most of our in-school training! I have seen people respond to TF teachers under the presumption that this accusation is being made – and in fact I mention the abuse I suffered at the hands of two such tweachers in the comment in Laura’s blog – but I’ve never seen a TF teacher make that claim. Perhaps someone has done so and I just didn’t see it, but unless you’re certain that’s the case, I would ask that you refrain from suggesting that it’s been done, since it rather pours unnecessary fuel on the fire!

    The second is regarding behaviour. While I wish what you say were the case, I’m not sure it’s completely accepted actually that there IS bad behaviour, as you say. Yes, people accept that some poor behaviour takes place, but I don’t think everyone agrees with the idea that there is a nationwide wholesale low expectation when it comes to what we should expect from children, behaviour wise. Poor behaviour is also often blamed on teachers; I’m certain we don’t yet have nationwide agreement on where accountability for behaviour should take place – probably part the reason behaviour is so poor. Also, I don’t understand how we can have the discussion about why it happens and what to do about it, if we’re not going to allow bloggers to describe the nature of the behaviour problem… I for one find some of the posts by Redorgreen and TessaMatthews to be utterly insightful. In Red’s 7 kids in 7 days, I found that I frequently recognised the children she was describing – what a profound realisation for me as a relatively new teacher, to see that idiosyncratic behaviour patterns are being reproduced almost identically in schools hundreds of miles apart! I can only just imagine how incredibly useful such a detailed account must be for people about to start teaching in September this year. Those accounts are simply not possible by speaking in the abstract. Telling the stories of the children we know, whilst of course wanting to protect their anonymity, helps us to empathise with and understand the problem.

    This idea of ‘not blogging about children’ is something I’ve seen you mention a few times now – to be honest I do not understand it at all. I find some of those blog posts the most useful in helping me to wrap my head around the ‘why,’ and getting me to think about the ‘what we can do about it.’ I’d be keen to hear your reasoning behind trying to place such a strong censorship on bloggers in schools, assuming there is no risk of children being identified.

    The third and final challenge, is whether or not, in a more general sense, it’s really right to be telling anyone what they should blog about. While blogs occupy a public space, they are regardless a personal outpouring. A person should surely be able to choose what they want to include, and how they want to include it, no? If one doesn’t appreciate the content of a person’s blog, there is no burden to read it. I’ve seen this kind of comment made quite often on posts written by TessaMatthews, and I’ve always thought them unfair, and a little unkind. She is obviously trying to paint a picture of her world for the rest of us, and while of course we all represent the profession when speaking in the public domain, I don’t believe she’s ever said anything that throws us into disrepute – on the contrary I think she demonstrates clear dedication to the children she teaches. What I see in her blog is frustration with a system that is letting these children down, and failing to empower her to serve them effectively. While she is certainly irreverent in her style, I always assumed that, as in the case of OldAndrew as well, the blog serves a cathartic purpose when working in this binding and frustrating system – who are any of us to say they don’t have a right to that cathartic outlet, and a right to express their thoughts as they wish? For my part, there’s one blog in particular I can think of that makes me cringe every time I read it. It’s one I’ve seen you recommend to people before, yet personally I despair to think that the person writing represents teachers. I find their posts often vacuous, I see no thought or rationale in what they post, often just a kind of knee-jerk emotive reaction, often railing against things they have no real knowledge or understanding of. However, I’ve never once suggested to anyone that that person doesn’t have a right to that space, to that outlet. I’ve never once said to you that I don’t think you should recommend it to people to read, or in any other way tried to dictate what that person should write about – for that same reason of course I’m not mentioning who the blogger is by name. Can we not allow people to say what they want, and engage them in debate if we so choose; ignore them if we choose not?

    So those are the three challenges I’d like to put forward – big issues perhaps, but small sections of a post that I enjoyed reading. Thank you.

    1. My goodness, thank you. That must have taken you ages and this is exactly the sort of mature and focused debate I’m pleading for. I need to reread my post I think because I didn’t intend to suggest that TFs had attacked PGs or vice versa, but that the promoters of both tend to do the arguing while you lot are simply trying to get on with your jobs. For example, it was John Blake I was thinking of, who is a PG graduate savaging the PG system – I’m sure he won’t mind me naming him- he’s a pretty hardy chap. My point was that our own experiences of PG are not really a reason for rubbishing one route or another. Take your point though.

      As for the behaviour point, yes, perhaps there are people who think that behaviour is perfect, but I’ve never actually met any! I think most of us struggle and I think you’re right that we have to look at wider issues affecting this behaviour. I thought that’s what I’d written but maybe not clearly enough.

      I thought red and green pen’s blog where she described that visceral feeling of having two hearts beating under her palms was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read – but that’s where the boundary becomes blurry – believe me I don’t have the answers!! I just think that we need to be careful about how we use children to further our own agendas that’s all.

      Thanks for taking the time to write this mammoth response! Have been using your narrative memory ideas by the way. Now that’s the kind of blogging I really like!

      Debbie

      1. Glad it’s been helpful! I can’t really take all the credit for it – most all ‘my ideas’ are really the reworkings of other peoples, but thank you though for the encouragement.

        I think the ‘use of children’ point is one that may end up debated over time. Only one other thing I’d throw into the mix for now, is how much are we really operating to opposing agenda? I mean it’s not like coal mining special interests vs. the local community – perhaps we have different thoughts, feelings, views, perspectives, ideas and so to some extent agenda in the kind of change that we might like to see take place, but in the end, I would hope that across the sector we are almost completely united in our goal and our vision for the future: an education system in which everyone can succeed, and everyone can reach their genuine potential. We cannot help but be moved and inspired by our daily experiences with the children we teach or have taught, and so abstracting them completely from the discussion seems to me a little contrived

        Perhaps there are examples where people have used anecdotes about children in some unethical way that I haven’t seen yet – there was one instance I’ve witnessed that I didn’t appreciate, but again I’m not going to name names, but my only issue in that case was lack of anonymity for the children. To be continued, I’m sure!

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