I teach. That’s what I am trained to do. But is that all there is? Is that all teachers do, impart knowledge?
Well, no it isn’t. We do so much more, but we are simply paid to teach. I’m not going to wax lyrical about the horrors of the profession. Others have done so more eloquently than I. In fact, not only do I think the plight of the average teacher is quite well documented, I believe that Joe Public doesn’t care. A terrifying notion, since we are responsible for the future of their children.
Teaching is about utilising X amount of teaching hours to turn Y amount of students in to Z amount of learning outcomes. The government see learners as a commodity, each worth a specific amount on the conveyer belt of my teaching to end up in a vat that needs to be full or my competence is called into question. And that Y value of learners represents my net worth as a teacher, since I’m judged on their outcomes and I have to make them succeed.
But I do love teaching and I do enjoy it. Not because of the unethical way the government turns young people into statistics on league tables, but because I work with real people, with real lives and real dreams. We may forget this from time to time (especially when we are tallying outcomes at the end of courses. Ed), but that’s why 62% of graduate teachers stay. They stay because they want to help people.
I don’t believe that teaching is just about imparting knowledge. It needs to be more than that to work effectively. It also needs to extend beyond the classroom and be able to support learners in their context. Adolf Meyer, a prominent psychiatrist of the early 20th century, believed that you cannot understand a person’s mental health unless you first understand their environment. He believed that to help treat people you must first understand their context.
Right now you are wondering what mental health has to do with education. Well, everything actually. In order to effectively teach you have to understand the context of your learners. You have to understand their culture, belief systems and motivators to ensure the knowledge you are trying to impart will be received and understood by the learner. This is not a new concept. It’s what inclusive education is all about. It’s what has driven education policy in schools since the start of the millennium. But how does this equate to an education setting?
Let’s put this into perspective. You are a driver on a dark road. You have an idea how to get where you are going, you even have a map, but the car you are in is sentient. It pulls away when it sees something interesting. It moans and groans when it goes up hill, often refusing to move. It swerves just for the sheer fun of it. And it lacks all respect for your ability to drive. Your sole concerns are following the map and getting to your destination (and if you are lucky the car isn’t deliberately trying to kill you). You are not a mechanic, you’ve never been trained to fix cars and even if you did you’d be too scared to get out of the car and check. You’ve only been given a map and a destination and been told to figure out getting there on your own.
Now imagine you are driving 25 of these cars at the same time.
That’s life in the classroom. We don’t have time to figure out what is wrong with each learner. In fact, we have never been shown how to. We have only been taught to impart knowledge, and to move students from A to Z, whether they like it or not. However, sometimes it is valuable to understand how our learners ‘function’ in order to move them forward. Sometimes we need to put the map away, forget about our destination and figure out what is happening with them.
There is value in psycho-social models of teaching. It helps us to understand what is happening for the learner while we share the journey with them. Many research studies have been undertaken to highlight the impact of socio-economic factors on education and mental health. And let’s face it, mental health is relevant. How can you possibly expect a mind to accept new knowledge when it’s in conflict with the old knowledge?
As teachers we see this as someone else’s problem, cutting ourselves off from these externals factors because we simply don’t have the time, energy or skills to cope or care. In our current model of education this is impossible. We can’t care about education as a worthy endeavour beyond test scores. We need to see the importance of fostering a system of education that puts the person before achievement targets, national statistics and league tables.
Is this idealistic? Yes. Is it unachievable? No. I do this in my teaching. My professional development isn’t with awarding bodies, the same differentiation course I’ve attended 3 years in a row or the guy that comes in an explains effective time management and what Ofsted considers outstanding this year. I’ve spent the last three years studying special education, coaching, mentoring and counselling. I’ve used these skills within my teaching as and when necessary. I monitor the four aspects of psycho-social engagement; mental, social, emotional and spiritual and adjust this with each individual in the classroom and occasionally outside of the classroom too. All ‘good’ teachers do this almost intuitively. Nine times out of ten they realise that working with people to improve their lives is more important than their boss’ ego or reducing people to their grade profile. These are outstanding teachers that leave the profession early to escape the bureaucracy. They see the need to be all things for all people. A noble ambition.
I’m not saying every teacher needs to attempt to do this. Workload alone won’t allow it. I’m suggesting that teachers be given time and training to allow for a more inclusive response to education. When elections roll around we are told that education is broken. Let’s look at modern approaches to fixing it that incorporates learner need; not skewed to unrealistic government targets.