16 May 2015

...Knowing About Teaching - Purpose

I'm writing this in my temporary office: room 555 of the Aston Business School, Birmingham. (I've been given a neat little room, with the expected luxuries - tea & coffee, a tiny kettle, tiny soap etc.)  It's the venue for the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Annual Conference.  The event is mainly attended by professionals engaged in teacher training and/or development of some kind.  This post is simply the result of my brief reflections on a theme which emerged during the conference... The Purpose of Teaching.
How would you answer, if I asked you about the purpose of teaching?

You'd probably say something about pupil learning.  Clearly the need to achieve progress is paramount.  Pupils making progress are learning new skills, developing deeper understanding or gaining new knowledge.  If this doesn't happen on a fairly frequent basis - if not every lesson - then questions surely need to be asked about the purpose of the teacher.
You might also believe that teaching is about presenting pupils with good role models. Teachers need to demonstrate courtesy, creativity and critical thinking. For some pupils (and it depresses me to think of how many) their teacher is the first and only adult, beyond their parents, from whom they might develop considered principles or observe positive values-in-action.
But probably you'd say that there's even more to it than that; an answer's not so simply formulated.  Your response to the question of teaching's purpose will of course be informed by your individual experiences of education including your past encounters with different teachers and your perceptions of their values, skills, strategies, strengths and weaknesses.  For example, teachers in training possess various and varying conceptions about their purpose.  Their understanding of a teacher's role shifts, is dynamic, and alters significantly from the start of training to the end of their first year in the classroom.
Finally, the answer will also depend on whether it's given from the perspective of a teacher, a pupil, a parent or a school community.  I recall being told by a teacher - very early on in my career - to remember that teaching's 'just a job'.  I can only imagine what the reaction would have been if I were to have routinely pointed this out during parents' evenings.
But a key message for me, from the conference, was that it's important for teachers themselves to articulate the purpose of teaching.  If we don't then our work will continue to be defined by standards and policies created for assumed purposes.  Pupil understanding will be 'flattened' into fact and figures expected to be remembered and recalled on cue.  Learning will continue to be measured by statistics and percentages rather than recognising creativity of application or critical thinking. 

And the teacher's role will be further reduced to a rehearsed series of systematic actions, rather than the complex, demanding professional and moral undertaking that it is. If teaching continues to hang on statistics, percentages and performance management, how can teachers be expected to open children's eyes to their future, or simply develop them into responsible, creative adults.
That's all.

What do you think is The Purpose of Teaching?


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