Teaching is not like other professions. We tend to lack the professional bodies that characterise medicine and the law. And teachers are becoming more conscious of this. Through social media, more teachers are challenging those who claim to speak for us. They are organising conferences and launching teacher-led movements.
So when a proposal was put forward for a College of Teaching in England, a professional organisation to represent teachers, you might think that the timing was right. A crowd funding site went live to raise money to release teachers so that they could contribute to setting up the College. The stakes were high; without reaching the target, it wouldn’t go ahead.
The initial plan was to raise £250,000. When it became clear that this target would not be met the goalposts were moved to 1000 donors. It still failed. The eventual total pledged was around £20,000, with roughly half of this from a single donor. The number of individual pledges was just over 200. What happened? Why was the idea so comprehensively rejected by teachers?
What is it?
From the outset, it was unclear what the College intended to do. We already have teaching unions so it would presumably avoid that territory. What would you get for your subscription?
Perhaps it might just become some bureaucracy that claimed to speak for teachers? Perhaps it would impose standards? If so, would these be ethical standards or teaching standards? Could it end up defining certain teaching styles as meeting or not meeting these standards?
Who is it?
The lack of clarity around purpose made the lack of clarity around membership even more worrisome. Most teachers would prefer an organisation for teachers run by teachers. And yet there was equivocation around this. Could teacher educators working in universities become members? What about head teachers? The College started organising events midweek which ordinary teachers could not really attend. So who was meant to show up?
There is nothing intrinsically bad about teacher educators or head teachers but they are not classroom teachers. The suspicion was that they would take over and set the agenda. This is the kind of thing that tends to happen a lot in education and ordinary teachers are used to being patronised by experts who know best.
CPD providers also seemed to be involved with setting up the College: the folks who are likely to bring us the next Building Learning Power and who sell us courses on Lego-based pedagogy and the like.
Many of us thought that the failure of the crowd funding campaign would see the end of the College. Instead, it looks like those involved are too invested to give up and instead intend to limp on. They could reformulate it as a organisation for teachers and come up with a clear vision. I would suggest outlining a few key objectives and restricting all membership to primary and secondary school teachers who teach more periods per week than they don’t.
This would be the right way forward but I suspect that if those involved were capable of following such a path then they would have done so already.
It will by grimly compelling to watch how this all plays out.