It’s interesting to see how often teaching in TV and movies is characterized as:
- Easy for outsiders—perhaps even easier for outsiders than for insiders, the people who have studied and practiced teaching for years. (Dangerous Minds, School of Rock, Stand and Deliver, Kindergarten Cop, etc.)
- Individualistic—a profession where you’re successful in spite of rather than because of your colleagues, most of whom are weighted down by their antiquated traditions or their inadequate beliefs in the potential of their students. (The Wire, Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver.)
- Sacrificial, indeed to the extent that successful teaching may require you to forsake your marriage (Freedom Writers) or your health (Stand and Deliver).
- An economic equalizer, where classroom success is the engine of economic mobility, rather than, say, wealth redistribution or a strong social safety net. (Dangerous Minds, Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver.)
- Cultural discipline, a medium for transmitting cultural and social values from the middle class to the lower. (Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Lean on Me, The Principal, Stand and Deliver, The Substitute, Blackboard Jungle, and on and on.)
Here’s an analogy that might explain the predicament of a teacher. I’ve long been fascinated by the art of stand-up comedy. Comedians spend years honing their craft. They often play to rooms of people that don’t laugh at their jokes, and may even heckle and abuse them. But if they are good, there’s no denying it. They will get the laughs — a constant trickle of feedback that tells them they are doing their job right. Well, teaching is a bit like stand-up comedy without the laughter.*
There is plenty to like about teaching. It’s just not as noble or inspiring as some people suppose. It’s a job and often a frustrating one.
He provides a series of arguments against the practice:
- The purpose and value of education is questionable
- Teaching often fails to achieve its purpose
- Any feedback you do receive in unhelpful
While on the other side, he also puts forward a series of counter-arguments:
- Nothing lasts forever, why expect teaching to buck this trend?
- Effective Teaching Cannot be Measured
- It’s Not About Outcomes
- What do you know? You are just a bad teacher
- Surely there is something meaningful about teaching?
Although Danaher’s focus is on tertiary education, it is an interesting provocation to reflect upon in respect to all aspects of learning and teaching, especially the idea of heutagogy.
The remote learning environment has thrust teachers and their professional judgments back in the driver’s seat for making improvements in education. This is arguably a great thing for students and their learning, as it places the location of professional knowledge and decision-making back inside the classroom with teachers, and within the contexts in which teachers are teaching.
The caveat spelled out here is that teacher evidence is most valid when using the four critical lenses on evidence (evidence from students, from colleagues, from research and from teachers’ own experiences). It is this amalgam of ‘teacher evidence’ that expert teachers possess, and it is this type of evidence that we should invest in to support the teacher-led renewal in learning outcomes.
I have always been wary of the glib phrase: “Inquiry teachers can learn alongside the children”. While there is certainly truth in that (I have learned SO much simply being part of an inquiry journey with groups and individuals) it doesn’t mean we are ‘off the hook’. Our ignorance can prevent us from asking better questions, helping learners make connections or pointing the way to critical information that can help struggling learners make meaning. In fact I have often observed in my own teaching that the deeper my understanding of something is, the better I am at listening, waiting, questioning and holding back to support the learner. Even when we might be assisting learners in a personal inquiry that goes well beyond our own field of interest and expertise, we need to know enough about how to connect to and locate others with the expertise … and that, in itself, requires us to stay awake to the world around us.
We need to have hungry minds that stay relentlessly curious about the way the world works and the way we understand the world. We need to keep pushing ourselves out of our “comfortable knowledge bubbles” and be prepared to be the geographers, historians, scientists, authors, mathematicians and artists we hope our students will be.
I remember trying to push the sharing of ideas and resources a few years ago through social bookmarking. I think the biggest challenge is legitimising the time. Too often in the busyness of planning things can quickly become about getting it done.
Sure — letting parents know about the struggles of individual students is a responsible act.
And sometimes, those notifications may result in improvements. A parent might hire a tutor for their child to address academic gaps or a student might change their behavior in response to home-based consequences.
But seeing parent communication as your primary INTERVENTION — instead of as nothing more than providing INFORMATION — is a cop-out.
Ideas from positive psychology suggest that intrinsic motivation in a job requires having opportunities for autonomy, competence, and relationships with other humans. The paper that my team published makes a few key points that, along with our findings outlined above, can be understood in this context.
- It seems that reshaping preservice teacher education (yet again) would not be the most effective place to put our future efforts.
- For all the studies that have been carried out about mentorship programs and their effectiveness, three out of ten early career teachers in Australia in our analysis either had an unhelpful mentor or had no mentor. Yes some states have since established a policy about mandatory mentorship programs, but for some beginning teachers (anecdotally) these can be just box-ticking exercises.
- The fact that clerical/administrative burdens was one of the strongest factors considered in linking on-the-job conditions to intention to leave the profession suggests that this may be a place to look for improving teacher satisfaction. The literature suggests that administrative burdens have increased for teachers in the last decade. It is difficult for any study to conclusively show that reducing this administrative burden would improve teacher satisfaction; but it is a proposal that certainly passes the common sense test. Again, this is a point made by many scholars before me; but having solid data to back it up adds to the case.
There are three streams to this model that eventually leads towards people being able to function as good online learning facilitators. The top stream is about all the sunshine and light about working with others on the internet. It’s advantages and pitfalls, ways in which to promote prosocial discourse. The middle stream is about pragmatics. The how’s of doing things, it starts out with simple guidelines and moves forward the technical realities of licensing, content production and tech using. The bottom stream is about the self. How to keep yourself safe, how to have a healthy relationship with the internet from a personal perspective.
- Learning online
- Making within constraints
I remember discussed the idea of digital literacy as a series of levels a few years ago. In more recent times, I have come to wonder if what matters is being informed and whatever that might mean for users. However, Doug Belshaw would probably argue that it is about an interaction of elements, rather than a linear progression.
Recently a friend and I were going back and forth about the demands of teaching. While my friend acknowledged that he could never be a teacher, he didn’t agree with me that teachers needed to ease up, slow down, even let a few balls drop in order to perform at high levels. It wasn’t as if my friend was clueless as to what teaching entails. Over the years he has spoken with many educators so he has heard about what it is like to be a teacher.
But he’s never been a teacher.
Schools and teachers can play a part in what kinds of behaviours and successes are normalised and rewarded within the school environment. Those working in schools can ask themselves questions about how gender is normalised. Are boys encouraged to be alpha competitors or are quieter achievement and ways of being also noticed and rewarded? Is the catchphrase ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘he was just joking’ used to dismiss put-downs of others or the objectification of women? Is strength and success measured by sporting prowess and outward expressions of courage or by a range of possible successes in multiple arenas? What does ‘courage’ mean to the school community? Are multiple ways of ‘being a man’ celebrated and held up as exemplars?
Two things stood out though to me were your discussion of digital literacy and mention of learning plans. I agree with you that digital literac(ies) are important. My only concern is that we are not critical enough about some of the assumed practices of staff and students. I love Jacques du Toit’s Tweeting Aztecs project, I just feel that maybe such projects are best done in a space such as Edublogs.
Your reference to individualised learning plans reminds me of the work coming out of Templestowe College. I feel that the biggest challenge with this is allowing students space to take action on their learning. I worked in a school a few years ago where time was allocated for staff and students to regularly meet to develop learning plans. The problem in hindsight was that the practice and the wider pedagogical beliefs were split. I am wondering if you too have faced this connundrom?