Parallel universe

A factoid that has cropped up several times in recent weeks is that teachers apparently make almost no progress in developing their professional technique after their first three years. This is the source that John Tomsett cited for that information in his recent blog post.

I must admit that a full read of that document is still on my ‘to-do’ list, so I will have to take Tomsett at face value for the moment. No matter what, I have also seen and heard that same point mentioned twice more ‘live’ and several times online in the days since the original post. Such is the power of the internet.

I’m aware that I’ve done a good bit of extended ranting in recent posts, and was planning on easing off for a while – after all, I have no wish to be destructive for the sake of it, but I find myself unwillingly faced once again with a huge divergence between what some ‘authority’ is claiming and my own experience.  The problem is, just what am I supposed to make of such claims, especially when it seems well on its way to becoming an urban – well a management – myth? I know that in my case at least, this is simply not so. Of course, I’m only one individual, but I don’t think my experience or behaviour is so very different from other teachers I know and meet.

The truth is, I feel as though all of my best teaching has been done in the last ten years. After three years, I had hardly begun learning what it is to be a teacher. I choose my words carefully – to be a teacher, not simply to teach. I can perhaps concede that I may previously have been technically more energetic than I am now – a combination of minor personal health circumstances, gradual ageing and less than optimal curriculum circumstances are factors over which I don’t have complete control, but which still have an effect.

But in that last ten years, the teacher in me – the whole person who is responsible for educating and nurturing the next generation – has finally come of age. In front of the class now stands a moderately-aging individual, who pupils know has taught some of their own parents; he has a degree of insight, resilience and world-weary humour that simply wasn’t there when he was younger. Even a degree of patience for the little dears’ many shortcomings – perspective has taught him that such things are simply rites of passage best handled with mock-resigned humour.

So I’m left to conclude that yet again those who seek to judge and control us aren’t even in the same ball park when it comes to being a teacher. They are still trying to count beans, and it may be true that these days I don’t pile them up quite as tidily as they would like. But the more I hear and read about the worlds of educational management and research, the more I conclude that it exists in a parallel universe from that of the classroom teacher. In fact, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that they are not finding what they want not because it’s not there, but because they simply aren’t looking in the right universe. In simple terms, they need to give up on the pseudo-science and try looking for a debate about education in the realms of philosophy and creativity instead.

And if that’s too novel an idea, let’s return to that basic claim; let’s assume for a moment that it’s true. Just why might it be that teachers don’t develop further? Is it that the people who do this job week in and week out are really a bunch of idle losers – or could it be (in the week when a report highlights the enormous hours being worked by teachers), that after three years they are simply too busy just trying to survive? That’s what bean-counters don’t see.

There’s more coming on this in following posts, but I think that’s enough resignation for one evening.

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3 thoughts on “Parallel universe

  1. The funny thing is that, looked at from another perspective, the three year principle is pretty reassuring, and it kind of matches my experience of other sorts of learning. If initial teacher training is doing anything right, the ideas leaned early on jolly well ought to be the things that are going to have the biggest effect.

    The first few months and years of teaching are a bit of a manic experience, with too many things going on at once and not enough experience or insight to make sense of much of it in real time. Getting a handle on that made a huge difference to me; the difference between pretty shocking and mostly-sort-of-OK is enormous. I believe that I’m still getting a better handle on being a better teacher, and I hope that process won’t stop. On the other hand, I very much doubt that my further development can possibly have as much impact as my development so far.

    • Yes, I think you’re right. Funny I hadn’t thought of that here, as it is definitely my experience in other fields, too – notably learning musical instruments. The biggest leap of learning is going from ‘not playing’ to ‘playing – badly’, and the biggest corrections to technique etc. are in the early days. After that, it’s a question of refinement and more refinement. By definition this gets ever harder to see.

      I think the other invisible thing that comes with time has to be experience – hence my choice of words. It’s only in recent years that I’ve gained a long-term perspective on the education game, and I hope a degree of insight that is simply not there when you’re still learning the basic technical functions. Again the musical analogy holds – you only appreciate the subtleties of what it is to be a concert violinist if and when you get there. Some of it may even include knowing which rules you can break and when.

      One wonders why the ‘experts’ who spend their time looking at such things don’t seem to understand this in the first place!

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