As teachers, we enjoy the privilege and responsibility of the having what I have always referred to as the second-most important job in the world. We are educator, mentor, guide and learning facilitator, in loco parentis in our daily interaction with students, in our planning for teaching and learning, and in our assessment of the success, or not, of this learning and teaching. We live our work.
At one time I was a literacy consultant. At one of our training sessions in a large conference facility, the dining tables and corridors were filled with noisy groups of us talking about these latest challenges for our practice. At one stage I was alone in the lift with one of the staff. He challenged me that all we could talk about was teaching. ‘What’s wrong with you all? Haven’t you got anything else to talk about? Haven’t you got anything else in your lives?’ He said that when he finished work, he and his mates talked about the football, or the weather, almost anything but the way they earned their living.
And of course we all have rich and busy, fulfilling lives outside of this teaching job. The trouble is, it is so varied, so rewarding, so interesting and such a challenge, that when we do have the chance to talk with colleagues, we have so much ground to cover.
I asked some teachers at a course I was running to quickly reflect on their day by choosing two adjectives to describe it. The responses were at the extreme ends of the cline from ‘disastrous’ to ‘exhilarating’. And, having let that horse out of the stable door, I had to work pretty hard to get them back on task. It was Week 2 of Term 1 of the new school year – new students, new classrooms, new organizational structures but all within the boundaries of a role with which many were experienced and highly skilled. And they wanted to talk and talk and talk. They wanted to share the events and incidents that had prompted their choice of adjectives, to explain what had happened, what the result was, and, most importantly, the affirmation for their own part in the events, and the direction for their future actions. What is this imperative that consumes us s completely?
I gave up my own teaching career after two happy and successful, challenging, terrifying and productive years with wonderful and challenging students. I was ready for new adventures. But the more I tried to move into other fields, the more teaching pulled me back. I realised I had to do a bit of research in order to try to understand exactly what it was that I was going to be doing, if I did return to the classroom.
By luck, I came across a gem of a book called ‘Teachers and Teaching’ by Arnold Morrison and Donald McIntyre, both then Senior Lecturers in Education at universities in the UK. The book was the second edition, and published as part of the Social Psychology series edited by Michael Argyle. I knew nothing of these men. I knew nothing of educational research. But what caught my attention was the title, and the blurb on the back cover
The quality of an educational system depends first and foremost on what happens inside the classroom – in particular on the behavioural skills of the teachers themselves, their relationships with both individuals and with classes, their ability to motivate pupils, and their overall ‘management’ of classroom activity.
And I do not believe this has changed one scrap. The best curriculum – if there is such a thing – in the best classroom – ditto – in the world, can turn to dross, tedium and nothing more than keeping students busy in the hands of a person with uncaring behaviours, poor relationships and an inability to motivate pupils. These people are not teachers.
Similarly, an inadequate curriculum – of which there are many – in an overcrowded and inadequate classroom – ditto – can, in the hands of a skilled, thoughtful and caring teacher, be the door that opens the world to a pupil.
It is with this philosophy that we will present training materials for you to develop yourself to become one of the latter teachers, particularly in the light of the attacks and climate in which we have to work.
Morrison, A & McIntyre, D (1973) Teachers and Teaching (2nd Ed.) Penguin Education UK.