Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Are you a dream teacher?

Jamie Oliver wants to know if I'm a dream teacher. If I am, I could win £10K. I know it's only an ad, but he really shouldn't ask me questions like that. Am I a teacher who only appears in dreams? Are my students entities that aspire to become dreams but lack the know-how? Are my students people whose sleep functions are defective and they need help to believe while unconscious that they have gone to work naked?

Because we all go to work naked, don't we? Teachers especially. But my students don't need a teacher who only turns up in reminiscences or the corridors of sleep. They need flesh and blood teachers with training and empathy in actual equipped classrooms (see Perhaps Jamie's question is more insightful than I give it credit for though. Heaven preserve us from teachers who are 'dream' in a media-licious Strictly Come Learning way. But society certainly needs people who are able to help others find out where they want to go and who can motivate and assist them to overcome the hurdles. A pity then -  to put it mildly - that funding cuts in ESOL mean that for many people this is now becoming more a dream than a reality.

So perhaps you too are training to become a teacher, and have already encountered the idiot who knowingly recites "Those who can do, those that can't teach - and those that can't teach teach teachers," (and doubtless there's a branch of archaeology especially for crappy old sayings). Maybe you're midway though your PGCE and need some wise words from an old lag, hey Bradley? Here goes.

Education management is obsessed with looking sciency. It isn't science.  It's a spreadsheet. There is science to be found in education (e.g. the rightly esteemed National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy). Sadly, however, we seem a bit prone to taking some untested theory and applying it as the only viable option, perhaps for as long as the lifetime of a parliament. Bottom-up phonics as the true path to literacy, for example, Brain Gym, and fish oil for passing exams. Then there's the whole Multiple Intelligence/learner preference styles industry (and these things are industries). Demand, instead, to see evidence of properly conducted research demonstrating that Honey and Mumford (and that ilk) are better than well-marketed astrologers.

Mind you, when I was doing my PGCE we had to absorb BF Skinner, who made pigeons walk in figures of eight. My students can do better than that, though, before they even meet me. We had to learn all about stimulus-response strings. Naturally, I built a little instrument that delivers mild electric shocks. I use it today, though mostly on myself. I subsequently became an English language teacher who knew nothing about linguistics and couldn't speak another language. Luckily I had more training, which was excellent, and then found myself mute at a bus station in central Anatolia - which was even more instructive. Even later there was the Silent Way (I use bits of it now), Total Physical Response (still get my students out of their chairs), Suggestopedia (I still play music in class if people like it)  - and any number of baffling Grand Theories of Everything whose adherents practically wore robes. There are some bits in all of it, probably.

Latterly, for me at least, it's all been about old theories repackaged as ICT. Nothing wrong at all with having lots of kit, and hooray for the internet. You grew up with it all anyway, but, as you probably already know, there can be a riot while you're waiting for something to load. So, consider Socrates, who could do it all with a stick in the dust (mind you, his government did make him drink hemlock for corrupting the youth). The point is, though, it's more important to know where your students are at than which direction your Powerpoint animation shoots in from  - by a factor of 10 (Mm, sciency!), though I've had managers who would be hard to convince on that one.

At the same time, you don't need to be a gnarled old cynic - probably best not in fact - but a clear eye is good. Someone in my area once said something like "Question all orthodoxies, including the present ones," which is pretty much actual science (not to mention sociology and history), when you think of it. So, here are some other things I don't need to tell you - some of which I learnt rather later than I should have done.
  • Make a lesson plan (even if the form they want you to do it on is a pile of pants) - it's your plan
  • Your plan is just a plan, not a lesson, which may turn out very different 
  • A coherent sequence of varied and engaging activities towards shared objectives is a dream lesson (whether you turn up naked in it or not)
  • People do learn in different ways at different times (but there's a lot more to it than AVK)
  • That whole OTT merry-go-round of Ofsted-centric, audit-a-go-go schemes and records tends to obscure the central truth that it helps to plan and organise in a way that is informed by learners' needs. Too often, especially in FE colleges, it also gets mistaken for the actual learning and teaching
  • You'll have dreams that you're late for class. You'll have good dreams too.
  • Join a TUC-affiliated trade union so, should you need it, you can get expert representation
  • Put the vinegar on the chips first so you don't wash the salt off (still get that one wrong)
      Have fun

1 comment:

  1. Fruitcake and I can attest that Alec turns up naked to class sometimes, but in dream schools that's inevitable.