A Seminar: Education

During class discussion we narrowed the subject of an upcoming seminar down to Education (I say narrowed…). Half of a group of six looking at schools nationally (possibly internationally) their performance, management, direction, contexts etc. The other half of the group (of which I am a part) will look at the classroom, teaching practice, learning theories, developmental issues: more one-to-one issues affecting classroom practice etc.

In other related news, I have also recently learned that parliamentary ministers refer to the Education sector as ‘The Blob’ (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/11/dominic-cummings-genius-menace-michael-gove) , Which shows me just how much governments must relish tackling issues in this sector as we are about to do.

I am personally determined to stay away from a politicised discussion about classroom practice (internal and national politics inclusive). I have completed (but not passed) a PGCE and I currently still work in schools and as a result I am much more interested in the relationship of children to each other, to the teacher, their developmental styles, how home life feeds in to (in)effective learning – anything about how the children learn and develop. If I want to help children learn I start with the children, not with the system. In this context, ‘system’ and ‘institution’ sound like a perjorative term because, well,  to me it is! It does sound idealistic to talk about education and learning as something that should be de-intitutionalised (if it’s not a word, it should be!). We can talk about the ideal do’s and don’ts of education in the classroom all we like: learning context will always be directed by the institution in which learning takes place, whether its agenda is radically free-form learning (Summerhill in Suffolk) or an ‘Outstanding’ state sector faith school which allegedly actively restricts children’s exposure to exam questions that contradict the school-sanctioned religious policies (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/10/10/jewish-school-yesodey-hatorah-hid-exam-questions_n_4077300.html).

In my view, we currently have such a fractured and diverse (for better or worse) national schools system: is there any practical, viable approach to learning that would be applicable in all educational situations? The one thing you have to be as a teacher is adaptable and flexible: from one academic year to the next the children (for the most part) and the school site are the few common threads that flow through a school over the period of a child’s nursery/infant/primary education. Staff (at all levels), curriculum focus, guidelines, national policy, funding: all are much more liable to change than the building or the children within, in my experience.

As well as throughout my PGCE, in the many other schools that I worked at as a cover supervisor or TA; my recall for whom were the longest serving members of staff are often the kitchen and back of house support staff, along with a smattering of TAs and the odd long-serving head. I would be interested to know whether my experience reflects a national pattern but many people I have had contact with have mentioned a high turnover of staff in their school.

I recently watched the first episode of series 4 of ‘The Wire’ in which a secretary informs the School Principle that there is a teacher at the door waiting to come in and the reply comes: “Let him in before he sees something to change his mind!”. Many inner-city English schools aren’t Baltimore but it made me chuckle – a facetious point maybe but certainly a familiar tone of gallows humour in a teacher’s cannon…

A premise suggested by the group for a seminar has been ‘What makes a good teacher?’. For me, we could spend 2 hours debating what we mean by ‘good’, ‘teacher’ and whether they can be ‘made’! ‘Effective’ teacher maybe. Effective at what? Effective at producing ‘results’ that tally to a minimum national standard? Effective at producing well-rounded and capable human beings that will contribute positively and tangibly to society? Producing children who excel in a certain area or are competant at many skills? A teacher who makes a difference to a school, to the system in which they work and in-tangibly improve the lives of all those they teach? It is perhaps easier to say what we don’t want in a teacher! We could probably all agree on that!

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