Teachers love to see themselves as professional- we all do to certain extent but teachers go further in this mindless and mimicking of doctors and accountants. Doctors have the General Medical Council and that sounds so grand and dignified so teachers now have a General Teaching Council.
Teachers behave in this way in order to enhance their status and pay bargaining position. But teaching should not follow this path because it is an intrinsically different type of activity.
Teachers need nothing like the level of academic achievement of a doctor so this curious status anxiety pervades the profession and they try to make up for it by using arcane language and jargon as they spout at each other buzz phrases such as ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘generic’. ‘Vasectomy’ is an obscure medical term but it is not pretensious – there really is no other word for it. However, ‘engaging in behaviour which may negatively impact on future outcomes’ can easily be replaced by ‘misbehaving’. The message this obsession with professional status gives out is that the letters-after-your-name profession is the ultimate aspiration. So how are we to move teachers out of this mindset and give back to them the pride and dignity this noble and ancient calling deserves?
The clue lies in a trend which teachers are doing much to encourage: the web. More and more work is being done online. A broadband connection at home is now regarded as essential for a secondary school education and many of the multiple choice homework is marked automatically. If a student does not understand something she can go onto the web and get another teacher to explain it better. This opens the door to competition. If a teacher is any good, he should put his lessons online and see how many clicks he gets. I can imagine what you’re thinking: ’Where is this leading to? How will teachers be paid?’ Bear with me, I’m coming to that.
Teachers teach in their own likeness. They teach to qualifications and thence to professional work. In fact, they teach people how to be professional teachers just as musicians teach students how to become musicians. The result is not altogether satisfactory. I know an aerobics teacher of twenty years’ experience who was ousted from her job by an eighteen year old with a ‘qualification’.
I overheard some music students who were studying the violin for an MA. Orchestras won’t even consider a mere degree for audition such is the state of qualification inflation. One of the students, a young man totally immersed in the qualification mindset, made a revealing remark. He was complaining (‘bitching’ may be a better word here) about a singing teacher. She was someone I knew and she had twenty years experience as a voice coach, choir master and she was an accomplished composer. It is often a throw-away remark that can say so much and in this instance, it made me see education in an entirely different way and even galvanised me to action. The remark need not be wise or telling, in fact in this case it was gloriously stupid, ignorant and stirred up with envy. He said: ‘She charges £50 an hour and yet she isn’t even a qualified singer.’ Never mind the inane assumption that a qualification should override the natural laws of supply and demand. As soon as we here the word ‘qualified’, we expect it to precede ‘pilot’, ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’ or ‘solicitor’; activities which require a complex body of knowledge which ensures the smooth running of civic life. Singing is not such an activity. Singing is as natural as walking, breathing, sleeping and eating. Children are naturally inclined to it but for many, the inclination declines over the years. Think of the ten greatest singers and ask yourself how many are of them are ’qualified’? Singing is communication so it could be said that no communication should be subject to formal qualification. Do we really need qualified musicians, qualified painters and qualified poets? And if we had them, would they be any good? I doubt it. A qualification gives a student an employee mentality and that is anathema to the creative spirit.
Ah yes. We come to that crucial word. I’ve done well to avoid it so far but we need to address it now. Academics love the word ‘creative’. Creative people use it a lot less. To say ’I am creative’ is a little like saying ’I have a great sense of humour’ This is a message that should be conveyed by the medium. Universities and schools love the word so much that they even have whole departments with tautological names such as Creative Arts and Creative Writing. Academics are convinced they know how to measure creativity (they haven’t a clue) and they go on about how they put creativity at the heart of the curriculum.
Creativity is courage because it reveals the soul. That’s why we love reading what little children write because they are unguarded in their thoughts. As we get older, many of us become reserved and anxious to hide our innermost feelings. Often this is because we lack the confidence to express them. We think they will come out clumsy and nonsensical Creativity is about taking risks: what if no-one laughs at my joke? or I sing out of tune? or my book is ignored? or no-one turns up to my concert? or my business fails? Teachers can never teach risk and failure because they have chosen risk-free careers: they go on Health and Safety courses, the school has electric gates and CCTV systems and they have safe public sector pensions at the end.
Teachers don’t even have a rigorous ruling body which polices the profession.
Complaining online about services is regarded as a legitimate activity. There are many forums where we can discuss the quality of service in airlines, hotels, doctors and dentists. We can put our doctor’s name into a search engine while we are in his waiting room and find out about his professional history. But when online criticism is aimed at teachers, the profession cracks down on it and call it ‘cyber-bullying‘. Admittedly, some of the negative remarks are abusive. But when a child says a teacher is short, or has bad breath or is trying to hide a bald patch , this is a clumsy and inarticulate way of saying the teacher is not very good.- the crucial rapport that a teacher needs to establish has broken down. In reality, the teaching profession is almost immune to criticism and discipline (or ‘behaviour management’ as they would call it). The number of teachers kicked out of the profession is way below the proportion experienced in other professions in law, medicine and accountancy.
But children can spot a phoney a mile off. Teachers cannot have it both ways. Either they are professional like dentists and engineers or they are creative communicators like artists and writers. If they gave up their professional status fantasies they would have so much more credibility in the classroom and only then could you say that creativity is at the heart of education. Teaching is like singing, a natural activity which some are inclined to more than others. Talk to people about things they are passionate about and they will often lose their reticence and reserve, (not always because not everyone is a natural teacher) and they will sparkle with passion and eloquence. These people are adorning the internet especially YouTube. We need to make teaching less professional and more natural. Teaching should be torn away from the Public Sector and put in the Creative Sector. Teachers will be able to teach exactly how they wish and to the level they prefer. There’ll be no marking, no lesson plans, no meetings, no targets – just pure natural teaching. The bad teachers will be ignored and the good teachers will be celebrated, in fact they could become global celebrities. Oh, and I forgot to mention, they will do this all for free.