This guy, Anthony Seldon, works at a teaching school, and he has just politely dissed teachers everywhere on the pages of the Guardian.
Schoolteaching is a profession, but it’s not like becoming a doctor or a vet. No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience. The prospect of going to the dentist and being confronted by somebody with a lifelong passion for teeth but no university background or training would alarm all but the most steely. For that reason, there is no Teeth First, though we do have Teach First, albeit with intensive training.
Nick Clegg and others who argue that teachers must first be qualified are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the profession. The teacher’s role is much more akin to that of a parent. It is a great loss that governments worldwide have made teaching much less like being a parent than an impersonal civil servant. No job is more important than parenting, yet no one is suggesting parents go off for a university course to qualify as a parent. Parents pick it up as they go along, and that’s exactly the way great teachers are forged.
May I be the first to suggest, then, that maybe parents would be better for it if they actually had to prepare for the responsibilities? There are an awful lot of terrible, horrible parents out there who end up abusing children by neglect or intent.
But no, I’m a teacher, and it’s nothing like being a parent. (I’m one of those, too, so I do have rather solid grounds for a comparison.) Maybe preschoolers need a more parental nurturer, but everything beyond that…teachers are bearers of knowledge that they must communicate to their students — their diverse students who may be hostile, apathetic, or enthusiastic, who may be coming into the class unprepared or thoroughly ready, who may be disciplined or disorganized. And they damn well better understand their material.
One of the first things you learn when you start teaching is that you have to know the content inside and out — it’s simply not enough to know the bare minimum that you expect the students to master, because as a teacher, you need to push just a bit farther to get them up there. You need to be able to lead them to knowledge, and you need to be able to point off in the distance to all the cool stuff they can learn if they continue. How can you inspire if you’re not drinking deeply from the Pierian Spring yourself?
And teaching itself is a skill. It requires constant work and adjustment. In my introductory classes, I’m comfortable with the content and it requires only a little attention to keep up to date on the science, but I’m constantly fretting over how to communicate concepts better this time around. There actually is a teaching literature, you know, perhaps Mr Seldon is unaware of it. There are always new and better ways to instruct coming out and being tested, and there is academic knowledge behind it.
One of the terrible secrets of college teaching is that it fits Seldon’s ideal: most of us get almost no instruction in education as grad students, and then we’re thrown into being in charge of a class for the first time when we’re hired as faculty. And let me tell you, it sucks for both the teacher and the students. My first year was terrible. I had no idea what I was doing, I was frantically struggling to all hours of the night to figure out what the heck I’d be doing the next day, and I pity my poor students from that time.
I could dig up my evaluations from back then if I wanted a reminder of my misery. My student evaluations were bottoming out my first year; I had colleagues coming in and giving me pages and pages of advice. Those evaluations steadily rose until I had people praising me as one of the best teachers in my department…but it took five years of hard work on the job.
So Seldon compares teaching to surgeons and says, “No one would want to be operated on by an amateur who hadn’t had years of experience.” No one in their right mind would want to be taught by someone who hadn’t had years of teaching experience, either. I’d go further and say you ought to demand that your teachers be well-qualified, because you’re trusting your children to them, and they are usually only going to get one shot at learning and growing.
But Seldon thinks there is no expertise to teaching, only passion and enthusiasm.
And then there’s this.
Those who care more about themselves, are time-watchers, and place pay and conditions above caring for the young will never make it. Teaching is a vocation as well as a profession.
Do not diminish the importance of a profession standing up for self-interest. It’s true that people go into teaching because they love it, but it is entirely in the interest of the paymasters to scorn the self-respect of teachers and tell them they shouldn’t care about pay and conditions. Teaching is one of the most important professions in our society, deserving of the greatest respect, but somehow, the bureaucrats and administrators have decided that it’s not worth paying for, and that teachers who demand appropriate acknowledgment of their contributions are compromising “caring for the young.”
Nice racket. I know who’s side Seldon is on, and it isn’t the teachers’.