Tag Archives: Teaching

Licensed to Teach?

I miss the GTC. Actually, no, scrub that. What I really miss are the reports from the GTC hearings that used to appear in the TES (you know, when it still looked like a newspaper rather than an in-flight magazine for a budget airline).

What I found fascinating was the jaw-dropping chutzpah of some of the cases. Not only could I not conceive of doing some of the stuff reported myself, but I honestly thought that not a single colleague that I had worked with over the years could come anywhere close either. Quite frankly, much of it seemed too bizarre to be true, and yet there it was, reported in sober black and white.

[The man] who recommended a curacy as the best means of clearing up Trinitarian difficulties, that “[holy] orders” are a sort of spiritual backboard, which, by dint of obliging a man to look as if he were strait, end by making him so.
George Eliot, Carlyle’s Life of Stirling.

And now along comes Tristram Hunt with yet another cunning plan to put a spiritual backbone (or a “spiritual backboard”) into the profession with a system of licenses.

In principle, I have no objection to this. There are some individuals who should not be allowed to remain in the profession. If I put my mind to it, I could probably name one or two that I have worked with over the last twenty or so years who (in my opinion) should have been chucked out. But I would have to think about it.

So, in my personal experience at least, this is not a major problem. To be blunt, the sad truth is that natural wastage from the tough environment of modern teaching will take care of most of the wasters and no-hopers. The ones who stay — we few, we happy few! — generally really want to stay.

Let me hasten to add that not that everyone who leaves is a waster or no-hoper — some leave through a lack of support or the insanely inappropriate priorities of their school or line manager.

The devil will be, as always, in the detail. I think that what I dread is a bizarre set of professional expectations drafted by someone who thinks that, by dint of obliging a teacher to look as if he or she were strait, that it will end by making them so.

For example, one of the most excellent and engaging teachers that I know is also one of the scruffiest. It would be a pity if an ill-considered set of criteria forced eccentric individuals  such as him out of the profession because they didn’t always do up their top button (are you listening, Sir Michael?).

We can but hope, because (going on past experience, at least) the profession will only have a very limited say in drafting the licensing criteria.

“Hear me. I am your new president. From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Furthermore, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.”

— The President’s victory speech , from Bananas (dir. Woody Allen 1971)

President

I have this idea about licenses for teachers and moving from a system of letter grades to number grades…

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The Woman Who Is Kicking the Hornets’ Nest

So, I’m reading  Seven Myths about Education.  Just like most of the rest of the teaching blogosphere, I suspect. And just like most of the rest of the teaching blogosphere, I have an opinion about it. Several, as a matter of fact. And since I am now about halfway through, I thought I’d share my thrupence’ worth.

To begin with, is Ms Christodoulou more like the boy who cried that the king had no clothes or the boy who cried wolf?

For my money, she is more the former than the latter. I think the estimable Ms Christodolou is calling time on some pretty dodgy ideas.

Some ideas are as ubiquitous and seemingly essential as air, but as Joseph Joubert correctly opined: “A thought is a thing as real as a cannonball”.  And in some circumstances, the wrong idea can be more dangerous than a large round metal ball travelling at close to the speed of sound.

Now teaching-wise, I have to confess that I have been around the block a few times. I am the definitive “old fart in the staffroom”. Like many old farts, I could bring myself to believe that oftentimes it is not what Ofsted actually said that was the main problem, but what all-too-many people thought that Ofsted said: some half-remembered, half-digested soundbite from some godforsaken half-decade-old CPD.

Christodoulou marshals some convincing evidence that often it is the actual demands of Ofsted that create the problem. It seems that Ofsted genuinely do not like didactic teaching, and we’re not just imagining it. Christodoulou presents some damning examples of the current vogue of trashing “teacher talk” from inspection reports. Whether Wilshaw will be able to rein in the “talk-less-teaching” rottweilers on his staff is open to debate. Large organisations can have a momentum as stubborn as supertanker and carry on going in the same direction for mile after mile, whatever the frantic signals from the wheelhouse say.

One of the passages that resonated most strongly with me was this:

For example, in a project that involved pupils writing any type of extended writing … I would provide them with a helpsheet summarising what they should put in each paragraph. […] Rather than breaking down the individual components required to write good reports and teaching those, I was asking students to write a report and then giving them a few cheats or hints about how to do it. It is rather like teaching pupils a few cheats or hints that would help them play a certain song on the piano, while neglecting to teach them the scales and musical notation.
— Location 1727, Kindle edition

Been there, done that, smugly uploaded the worksheet on to the TES Resources website…

She quotes psychologist Dan Willingham: “the most general and useful idea that cognitive psychology can offer teachers [is to] review each lesson plan in terms of what the student is likely to think about.”

Christodoulou argues that teaching (say) Romeo and Juliet by getting the students to make fingerpuppets of the main characters is counterproductive because the students spend more time thinking about making fingerpuppets rather than Romeo and Juliet. “That is not to say that … puppetmaking [is] unimportant. The problem is that this lesson . . . was supposed to be about Romeo and Juliet. If the aim of the lesson was … how to make a puppet, it would have been a good lesson. Not only do these types of lesson fail in their ultimate aims, but because they are so time-consuming, they also have a very significant opportunity cost.”

I agree with Christodoulou that direct instruction is often the most effective form of teaching. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not proposing that teachers spend the whole of the lesson talking at their charges. What I am saying is that students’ thinking should be channelled to engage as directly with the concepts being taught as possible. And at the heart of good teaching is clear, succinct, unhurried teacher talk.

The fingerpuppet stuff I have done, but only to pass observations. Sadly, honesty is not the best policy these days.

A while back, Arnold Schwarzenegger was The Terminator: robot on the inside, human on the outside.

Call me the The Didactor: steely-eyed, garrulous, “I’ve-got-a-banda-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-use-it” old-school (hah!) schoolteacher on the inside; cuddly, Ofsted-friendly, near-mute “lesson-facillitator” on the outside (readers of a certain generation are invited to think of a cross between Fingerbobs and Marcel Marceau).

Sigh, I wish. I got a 3 (“Requires improvement”) in my last lesson observation.

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.

— Jean Giraudoux

More sincere faking is required on my part, I feel.

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Post the first…yay!

So, you’ve decided to join the blogger bandwagon? Why yes, I most decidedly have. The TEACHER blogger bandwagon, if you please. I have been inspired by a number of educational blogs that I really enjoy to have a go myself. After all, how hard can it be? (As the free school committee said to the education secretary.)

So, I have decided to put finger (singular, I am a lousy typist) to virtual keyboard and write my profound thoughts on erm…well, stuff, basically. And stick some Physicsy guff in here at some point. And some ill-informed comment, gossip, innuendo and vapid intellectual posturing to boot!

Attentive readers will note that my blog title is a Physics-themed homage to the immortal “1066 And All That” by Sellar and Yeatman. I hope to do for Physics teaching what they did for History teaching.

So there. Plus I will be rude about Michael Gove from time to time.

John Mortimer once wrote that he joined the swinging sixties “just as the tube doors were closing”. I hope that one day a fellow teacher blogger who is insanely jealous of my reader stats and influence will be as cutting about my entrance on to the blogging scene.

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