I have attracted some criticism on Twitter and in the comments section following my previous post.
My suggested list of the traits exhibited by the best teachers explicitly did not include that they ‘love children’ or anything similar. A few people have drawn the implication that I think that caring for children is unimportant.
My claim is that it is not something that distinguishes the very best teachers from the rest. It is actually relatively easy to care about children. In fact, I would suggest that most people can manage it. And when you consider the type of people who are drawn to teaching then I reckon this proportion would go up. Clearly, we sometimes make mistakes or pursue selfish choices. It can be hard sometimes when you’re tired on a wet Thursday afternoon. But I would challenge the idea that the best teachers are an exception; that they somehow care the most.
It seems an odd metric to use. Ultimately, we wish children to learn something. If a teacher cares deeply about his students but is not very good at teaching them then that passion is wasted. To elevate caring in this way is anti-intellectual. Would you prefer the surgeon with the greatest technical competence or the one that cared the most? Perhaps the two are correlated and this is a false choice? Maybe, but I’ll continue to judge my surgeons primarily on their surgical skill. If caring and skill are correlated then I’ll happily get both. If they are not then I’d rather have the skill.
Caring is an odd property to elevate by teachers who are keen to be seen as a profession. You don’t need to go to university, develop deep subject knowledge, study learning theories and perhaps even conduct your own research in order to care very deeply about children. If we give the impression to policy-makers that we are essentially technicians who care then we talk ourselves down. This is clearly not an accurate description of teachers but there are interests out there that would be well served by such a definition. Think of the big software companies who could claim that their technology will do the teaching whilst a literate high-school graduate can be on hand for the touchy-feely stuff.
This is not what I want for my children. I want them to interact with smart, educated professionals who will challenge and extend their thinking.
And that is why teaching is a quintessentially intellectual vocation. It is not for cuddly fools.