Albus Dumbledore voted the teaching profession’s favourite teacher
I read the above headline from The Independent with some despondency, which turned to bemusement when I investigated further. I’m not normally a reader of fiction, and certainly no Harry Potter fan, so I had no idea who this character was. But that, and the accompanying photo failed to save me from gloom, when contemplating the prospect of a profession at best so middlebrow that it couldn’t think of anyone weightier than this. To be fair, Miss Jean Brodie did figure (I suspect Old Andrew might have something to say about that…) as did Mr. Keating from Dead Poets’ Society, who despite the reckless of his idealism might just have made it onto my own (very) short list.
What’s more, The Independent sloppily failed to mention that the TES survey had been about fictional characters only, and that there were only around 1200 responses in the poll.
Further investigation, however, shows that Dumbledore’s principle quality is wisdom, which I suppose is no bad thing. But whether mysticism is a desirable quality in teaching is more questionable. Other characters who featured on the shortlist also included a number of mavericks who were not afraid to break the rules and do what they believed in. That may be good, though being a maverick for its own sake probably isn’t.
Then Tom Bennett stepped in, and observed that all these romantic ideals were all very well, but he doubted what they could do for pupils’ G.C.S.E. results – a rather surprising angle from him, but maybe he was just trying too hard to be provocative.
I am left wondering just what we really do think we are doing. Maybe the poll simply reflects a degree of escapism from the hard-headed realities of modern-day teaching, or maybe it is an expression of a more deep-seated awareness that something really is fundamentally wrong with the present target-driven approach. ‘Imaginative’ is certainly not the word for it – in fact, the emphasis on known objectives is pretty-much guaranteed to constrain outcomes and crush the imagination in the process. ‘The system’ needs to note the observation that individuals who break out of the mould who are often the most memorable teachers, and take care not to crush them.
But what also concerns me is the perceived lack of intellectual rigour in the profession that such survey results may indicate – or at least propagate. If my general impression is correct, the mean level of intellectual life within the profession would indeed appear to be middlebrow, though admittedly with wide variability. There are plenty of teachers who would appear to think that the only way of ‘relating to their pupils’ is to be fully-blown kidults themselves. Or maybe that is just how they genuinely are.
This comes back to the personal qualities suitable for being a teacher; before I am accused of condescension, I would not dream to telling others how to live, but surely somewhere in the mix, a genuine, personal subscription to a degree of intelligent serious-mindedness is necessary?
Being a thoughtful, intelligent adult need be nothing to do with being eccentric or an egg-head. Neither need it make one oppressively ‘serious’. But ‘being an adult’ in children’s presence is hardly a bad thing either – exhibiting a certain gravitas or restraint may actually command respect (do children really want adults to behave like their mates?). It may also help them to realise that there is a more serious side to life, that has significant value, and which needs to be engaged with both for the rewards it brings, and for the chance it offers to approach life’s more difficult matters with some maturity.
If we only ever offer children infantilised, lowbrow role models, why are we surprised when that is how they turn out?