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College of Teachers? Old Andrew might have a point but does he have a middle ground?

cotIn my last BLOG I wrote about the “teaching is a vocation not a profession” debate. In my view it feeds into a management narrative that goes along the lines of “I don’t have to give a reason why I’ve given you this meaningless task. Teaching is not for 9 -5 ‘ers you know”. The inference being that teaching is not a profession, there is no rationale to it and if you don’t do what I say……..; well you probably get the rest.

The main reason the vocation / profession discussion still persists is the same reason that teachers have relatively little influence over their own profession; there are those who do not value teacher knowledge. They do not believe that teachers know anything that someone, of a moderate intelligence, could think over their morning Cocoa Pops. I’m not talking about the general public, parents and those who interact with teachers, but those who make the decisions that matter.

Think Michael Gove, it’s painful but try, did he think that teachers or the educational establishment had much to say about anything? It’s not just Gove: politicians generally think it, policy wonks  think it and even think tankers think it.

Why shouldn’t they?  OFSTED, the sector watchdog, has peddled complete gibberish for years before being exposed by eduBloggers like Old Andrew. The profession tolerated it. No, that’s not true, the profession was complicit. It would be easy to explain the complicity away with the excuse that the profession was a victim of powerful politicians, or that too many people were trying to climb the “greasy pole” and and and… the excuses trip off the tongue.

The reality is probably worse. The profession didn’t, and still doesn’t, know any better. There are simply too many in education who don’t know enough about teaching and learning to challenge ideologies imposed from outside the profession that are manifestly wrong.

Martin Robinson commenting on the newly proposed College of Teachers (CoT) gives an example in his latest BLOG:

I worry about expertise coming from outside of the profession and possibly passed down on tablets of stone via anti-social experts. This is what happened with ASTs, Expert teachers, and the GTCE, a whole raft of expertise drawn from outside of the profession was used via these agents to dictate to the profession. It arguably ‘de-professionalised’ parts of the profession.

The question I pose is did it ‘de-professionalise’ the profession or simply expose an existing lack of professionalism? Could VAK learning styles have really been accepted so readily if the profession had more pedagogical knowledge? Interestingly Old Andrew has also recently been commenting on the newly proposed CoT arguing, on ideological grounds, that such a body could become a vehicle for the the ideological.

In my view that is the nub of the issue. Professional bodies jealously guard the professional knowledge of those they purport to represent. The argument against teaching as a profession lies not with an alternative ideological view, along the lines that teaching is a vocation, but in the view that it simply isn’t very professional. It does not have a body of knowledge that it can claim as its own.

Old Andrew is right about the GTCE but I suspect he is wrong about it being a vehicle for progressive ideology. The GTCE like many other stakeholders in education chase funding and politicians hold the purse strings. The fact that the GTCE had forgotten that teachers actually teach is largely a consequence of politicians using education to solve social problems and not pedagogical ones.

Old Andrew is also right teachers have to be at the heart of the CoT. Martin Robinson makes a similar point here:

The role of the teacher is central, it is their passion and experience that should ‘be’ the community, drawing on knowledge and expertise, from wherever it may come, but knowledge and expertise that she sees as relevant, rather than having this ‘driven’ by outside forces who see an association as a method of controlling teachers in the short term interests of the current whims of government and/or global organisations.

Both Old Andrew and Martin outline the problem that faces the CoT; power and the imposition of ideology. Andrew frames the problem in terms of ideological progressivism whilst Martin sees it more directly as a problem of modern technocrats imposing political ideologies onto teacher knowledge.

Another problem identified by Martin is the problem of expertise that becomes elitist asking the question:

Anti-social expertise institutionalises the inequality between the expert and the non-expert. This can lead to the experts feeling contempt for others as they withdraw into themselves becoming a group apart.

How can the researcher be brought into the association? And the consultant, the journalist, the nursery teacher and the university professor? How can we harness and share all this expertise and experience in a sociable way? At the same time how can we ensure an association is not a guild-like secret society protecting its tradition against outside influence?

In many ways that is the price you pay when engaging with power. If you don’t have something of value, where is your professional commodity? Why would anyone listen? Often they don’t listen.

Achieving and maintaining a body of knowledge that helps teachers to teach, and learners to learn, should be the objective of the CoT. Managing complexity and finding a middle ground between competing ideologies is a challenge that we all share. The way to avoid exclusivity and elitism is to have a robust and consensual debate. So whilst Old Andrew might have a point, the question is, does he have a middle ground? Does any of us and, if so, where does it lie?

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