Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Teachers - do we trust them?

Jeff Utecht was relating recently how much respect teachers are accorded in Thailand, something which is reflected in the form of greeting they are accorded within the culture.

I have long been concerned that teachers are largely disempowered in the UK. During my short time (2 years) in a further education college, I experienced deep frustration at the peremptory way the staff were treated - often over-managed and usually accorded less respect than the students. I kicked powerlessly against the lack of freedom to be flexible based on the requirements of my students. There was this thing called Curriculum and, whether or not it met the needs of our students, it had to be adhered to, since it had been developed by a collection of minds patently superior to our own.

Some of the learning materials prepared for the purposes of affording teachers professional development seem to contain the implicit message that teachers need to have everything explained to them , or they will never figure it out.

When I have raised the question: is it entirely necessary to explain this point? Will teachers not be able to figure that out for themselves? The answer is often rather arch and skeptical.

Which makes me wonder: if we have so little faith in these people, why are we allowing them to teach our children?

I think we should perhaps cut them a little slack. Give them a little credit.

I related in a recent post how people often speak to their children in a way that implies that we expect them struggle with or fail at a given task. I expressed the view that a healthier approach was to start from an expectation of success and to offer guidance that was couched in terms that aimed at facilitating success rather than avoiding failure.

Perhaps it's time we adopted the same approach with the people responsible for educating the future doctors, lawyers, L&D consultants, Prime Ministers, entrepreneurs... and teachers.

Failing that, fewer and fewer people with creative minds and extraordinary abilities will be attracted to the field and we will have on our hands a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecies.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Karyn!

I identify with what you say here.

I am a teacher. I have had thousands of students. I have six children. I would not bore you with the hundreds of stories I could tell of my faith that my students or my children would succeed.

But I also believe you are right when you say, "some of the learning materials prepared for the purposes of affording teachers professional development seem to contain the implicit message that teachers need to have everything explained to them, or they will never figure it out".

I wonder if that is because people, who think that teachers know as little about learning as their students, prepare the professional development material. In a very recent post by a prominent professional, I was surprised to read a summary of teaching and learning viewed from the professional's perspective.

I believe that it is the perception held by so many people who do not understand the profound nature of teaching and learning that, perhaps, causes the propagation of a misunderstanding of the calling that teachers have in their difficult profession. These people go about professing to others that they are experts in the field, when in fact they may know little about the art of teaching and the intricacies of learning.

Ka kite

The upsycho said...

@blogger I'm not a teacher, Ken - I am one of those professionals you mention, yet I can figure out that if teachers are as ignorant as the resources and provisions seem to imply, then perhaps they shouldn't be teaching. Surely I'm not alone!

Also, in the UK, the professional development materials are developed by ex-teachers. One would expect them to have a somewhat higher view of those who pursue the profession.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Virginia.

I am one of the teachers you refer to :-)

I can't comment on how ignorant the teachers are who use the resources you mention, nor about the resources for that matter. But one observation I have made of teachers who deliver training to teachers is that some (not all) seem to thing that teachers are telepathic. They think that teachers know what is meant by a glib and general statement levelled at them in a training environment.

I am often astonished at the level of assumption and sheer lack of good communication by these professionals and wonder how they ever managed to teach kids in the classroom.

I think it is a mind-set that teachers may have about other teachers. Teachers are learners the same as everyone else. In my 61st year on this planet, I constantly marvel at what I am yet to learn, and this is having taught for almost 40 years and having been conferred 2 degrees and a teaching qualification.

Though I have learnt skills in learning (the learnacy I hear about from time to time) fundamentally it doesn't make the act of learning any easier for me than it was when I was at school. As Stephen Downes says, it still involves work.

I think all teachers have to understand this concept - that learning and knowledge are not the same thing - that the educated are just as ignorant about what they don't know as the lesser educated. With that mind-set as a place to start, teachers will be able to relate to other teachers in a way that is productive.

Ka kite

The upsycho said...

@blogger Actually, Ken - that comment wasn't from Virginia, it was from me (Karyn). Due to a few ticklish issues there have had to be some changes on the settings of my blog and my comments come up tagged as being from the Learning Anorak rather than with my name. I shall have to figure out how to overcome that.

Anyhoo - I was not trying to imply that teachers are ignorant, just expressing surprise that people think they are. Particularly when those assumptions are made by ex-teachers.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Karyn!

I don't think it's the system - I have on a few occasions, in the past, got mixed up with who I'm commenting to - ah me! I frequently have several tabs open at once - a practice I should abandon - and I had just read Virginia Yonker's post. At least I was on topic, but, I know, that's no excuse! Please accept a six figure apology.

Multi-tasking isn't what it used to be :-)

Ka kite
from Middle-earth

The upsycho said...

@blogger Apology accepted. Fortunately, I have a high regard for Virginia, so I don't mind being mistaken for her! ;o)

Developer said...


I have often observed that in my country, conservative politicians have frequently referred to teachers in ways that stir up discontent and even fear. As a result, citizens have been tooled so many times that teachers do not know what they are doing, that the profession has actually come to have less confidence in itself. The accountability/high-stakes testing movement in the U.S. has contributed greatly to this sense of struggle among professionals who are trying to measure-up.

But, if I might step back and suggest an entirely different idea -- how much of the respect that our society pays to its teachers comes from its collective experiences in classrooms of 10, 20, 30 or more years ago? If our regard for the teaching profession owes anything to these experiences, I have to wonder how much respect today's children will have for teachers -- and how much they will be willing to support public education.

The upsycho said...

@David Well, one thing I know is that, when my son recently said he might consider becoming a PE teacher, I gave him the inside track of what I know, to make sure that, if he follows this path through, he does so with no illusions!