Personally speaking Bethan Marshall

The art of learning to teach should not be reduced to a 'Reader's Digest' guide to the information a novice teacher should know
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
There is an old adage that people who can, do, people who can't, teach, and people who can't teach, teach teachers. It seems there is little new in the current Tory concern over teacher training and in particular the trainers themselves.

But the saying, like the proposed reforms for teacher education, also betrays the underlying ambiguity we have towards the whole business of what goes on in the classroom and departments of education. It demonstrates a mistrust of the whole notion of teaching as a profession, and the idea that any theory might play a part.

To many the job is primarily one of common sense. Most of the population will at some point in their lives become parents and, even if they don't, everyone has been to school. It's the "we all know what it's like" theory. A few facts, preferably more than the children have, and some handy hints for crowd control, and you're away.

This was the basic premise behind the doomed initiative of the "mums' army". The licensed teachers scheme, still in operation, required a few more paper qualifications than motherhood, but none of them had to relate to teaching. (Anyone with a degree, it seems, can teach.)

For the past three years, even conventional teaching courses have had to be 60 per cent school-based. And though many colleges and departments were already going this way, in partnership with schools, the Government's rationale was clear: keep teaching away from theory.

The insistence upon a national curriculum for teachers needs to be seen in the same light. It reduces the art of learning to teach to a Reader's Digest guide of the information a novice teacher might need to know, and one or two ideas on how to introduce it. The rest is simply a matter of practice. There is no acknowledgement of the complexity of the way in which we all learn, or of the idea that we may learn in different ways; or that people's teaching styles differ, and to what effect; or that there is any diversity at all in the nation's children and teaching staff. But above all there is no acknowledgement that perhaps teachers ought to think about some of these issues.

The great irony of the Government's educational reforms is that so many of them are anti-intellectual. They are designed to reinforce rather than question received wisdom. Surely what and how we teach should be part of an ongoing debate based on the best practice and latest research, as it is in all other professions. It is perverse to enshrine prejudices in tablets of stone before the next century, particularly in light of the fact that, as we approach the millennium, so much in society is changing fast.

Part of the armoury of good teachers is the ability to reflect on what they have done, to learn from their mistakes and experience, and to adapt new ideas into their practice. Yet in the hurly-burly of government reform over the past 10 years this has become harder and harder to do, not only because of the pace of "reforms" but because many of the changes have been designed to cut back time for such professional development. There has scarcely been time to draw breath, let alone to think.

The attitude contrasts starkly with our Continental partners, to whom we have often looked for higher standards in schools. There, the role of theory in developing teaching professionals has always held a central place. We should welcome the recent pronouncements of Anthea Millet, head of the Teacher Training Agency, on the need to connect educational research to what goes on in schools; but the Government's new proposals for teacher education seem all too ready to go for a policy that denies any value in producing thinking professionals at alln

The writer is a lecturer in education at King's College, London.

Comments