Five pieces of advice from a teacher educatorPosted: June 16, 2016
This post is not entirely serious. If you’re struggling with the subtext the please read this:
I’ve decided that I am a teacher educator. Why not? After all, a number of teachers have contacted me to say that they have sometimes learnt things by reading my posts. Even if they had not, who is to define me? Can I not identify as a teacher educator if I want to? What’s the harm?
So as a teacher educator, I offer some advice for those who are currently training to be a teacher.
1. Don’t rely on your course for classroom management strategies
Some of the people involved in teacher education are ideologically opposed to classroom management. They balk at the prospect of managing behaviour because they see it as authoritarian. They imagine that if you plan work that is ‘authentic’ enough then the students will ‘engage’ (you have to wonder how these folks would cope with teaching a full timetable in an inner city school but that’s another matter). So if you intend to run an orderly classroom then you might decide to keep pretty quiet. For an alternative perspective, I recommend this thoroughly researched book on the topic which I drew upon for this article for the TES (which now seems to be paywalled – sorry).
You should also ensure that you go and observe the teachers in your placement school who have a strong reputation for well-run classes. Some will be utilising their charisma and position in the school hierarchy – think of a Head of Year teaching kids in her year group – but others will be using strategies that you can copy, particularly if you are able to see a lesson where a teacher is starting-out with a new class and the routines have not yet been established.
It is essential to realise that classroom management techniques can be learnt, even if they won’t help a great deal in a school that has no coherent behaviour policy.
2. If it’s described as ‘critical’ then it’s probably a waste of time
According to Google, ‘Critical Thinking,’ is defined as, ‘the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.’ It is ironic that the people who go on about critical thinking the most tend to exercise it the least. We all want students to be able to analyse issues and form well-founded judgements but this cannot be done in a decontextualised vacuum. In fact, it seems that the best way to develop these capacities is to study academic courses and not courses specifically designed to address critical thinking ‘skills’.
Other approaches that are described as ‘critical’ include critical literacy, critical pedagogy and so on. These are derived from Marxism and are essentially left-wing politics dressed-up as teaching methods. I find left-wing politics pretty interesting but imagine a dental school that taught a left-wing approach to extracting teeth. We might question whether it should instead consider teaching the most effective and painless approach to extracting teeth.
3. Observe experienced teachers
Your school of education will undoubtedly ask you to observe experienced teachers and it really is worthwhile. You will learn far more about the process of teaching by trying to analyse what an experienced teacher actually does. Don’t see this as a box-ticking exercise.
4. Read some good books and articles
There are plenty of good books on education that are now available and that were not around a few years ago. I would recommend “Why don’t students like school?” by Daniel Willingham as a departure point. After that, I would suggest “Teacher Proof,” and “Seven Myths“. The new Didau and Rose book also looks promising and let’s not forget my own bargain ebook, “Ouroboros“. Sadly, there is plenty of poor, trite writing about education so I suggest looking for recommendations.
American Educator has many high quality and free articles to read that are fully referenced. This piece is one of my favourites and is a great summary of the research on explicit instruction.
5. Consider refusing to do silly things
During my teaching practice I had to attend a session every Wednesday afternoon in Harrow. One of these sessions was led by a drama teacher and she made us stand in a circle and all say, “Now,” in turn. I must not have done it right because she asked me to jog on the spot and say, “Now,” again. This still wasn’t up to scratch and so she asked me to jog up and down the room and say, “Now.” At this point, I decided that I was not going to participate any more. “No,” I said, “I am not going to do that. Sorry.”
I expected the sky to fall in but everyone was pretty pleasant about it, if a little startled. The drama teacher grabbed me a chair and I sat-out the rest of the task. Ever since, I have critically evaluated an activity before participating. If someone says, “Let’s do a role-play: You can be a student who is chewing gum,” then I say, “No thanks.”
You have to be careful, I suppose. Participation in nonsense could be a requirement of passing your course. If so, you might question why they have chosen to discriminate against introverts and those with a modicum of intelligence and self-respect.
A College of Teacher Educators
Given my new role as a teacher educator, I think we could benefit from all joining forces. I’ll make contact with some companies who provide professional development and we’ll set something up. A College of Teacher Educators (COTE) could speak on behalf of a united profession at the same time as representing my views about things. Who would like to join? Anyone know how we can get hold of some taxpayer cash?