In my first blog on this subject (What’s a Teacher; Teacher, know thyself), two brief statements of possible characteristics required of effective teachers were presented:
1. The teacher must know what they are talking about, and the students must know that the teacher knows.
2. The teacher must really want the students to know what they, the teacher, know, and the students must know that, too.
No-one criticised these (but there is still time), so I will move on from these. I want to explore ‘Authority’ a bit, in the context of what a teacher is. Through responding to the comments of that last blog I became convinced that there is an ‘irreducible core’ to being a teacher, and I have previously had an interesting discussion with Tim (@imagineinquiry) on the subject of ‘Authority’ as it applies to teachers (see Obedience blogs… http://www.imaginative-inquiry.co.uk/). Authority is linked to responsibility, and hence, to professionalism. I think that the ‘irreducible core of teacher’ is bound up in teaching as a profession, and I think that profession is bound up in responsibility. Regardless of a chosen pedagogy, the responsibility of a teacher (primarily to their students) is part of the irreducible core of ‘teacher’. This cannot be abdicated; a ‘teacher’ has a teaching responsibility. How that responsibility is discharged is a bigger debate, but the responsibility is core.
At this point I think it is worthwhile to step sideways and think a bit about the differences between educating students of different ages. I had a brief twitter conversation recently with Michael Fordham (@mfordhamhistory) on whether a teacher was a teacher first, then (say) an historian, or an historian and then a teacher. I think this is an important distinction. My view is that a teacher is a professional teacher, and only secondly a (for instance) history teacher (regardless of the level of expertise they have in history, per se). I think that the ‘teaching’ is the primary professional responsibility here….subject knowledge is important, but not the primary responsibility (although, age -related…the older the students, the more specific is the teacher’s responsibility, and the more important is subject knowledge). I also think this is very important with respect to professional standing. I suggest that teachers should see themselves as primarily professional teachers (and taking this view has profound consequences for how teachers see themselves, how they project themselves and their profession, and on how they will be perceived).
There is, though, a difference between teachers of primary aged students, secondary aged students, and tertiary aged students. Students in these three age related groups require different things from their teachers. Therefore, the responsibilities of the teachers are also different. There has been a clear divide (and perceived differences of opinion) between primary tweachers and secondary tweachers. I think that this probably arises from the differences in responsibilities for the two groups. When children first enter the education system they require a lot of socialisation. They need to adapt to ‘school’ and all that goes with it. In a very real sense, primary teachers are substitute parents and children of that age require a lot of parental support to help them make sense of the world. In many ways this is the most important part of being a primary school teacher (but the system in the UK seems to have forgotten it). However, as the child matures, their requirements change…they need less parental input, and need to develop their own independence. Secondary education is largely about developing that independence in the context of preparation for the wider world, and this is largely delivered in a subject specific manner. Secondary teachers need to know their subjects in greater depth, and delivering that to their students is probably their most important responsibility…..but this isn’t a primary teacher’s most important responsibility. Secondary teachers are still ‘parents’, but to a lesser (and rapidly decreasing as the students get older) extent. Tertiary teachers are not ‘parents’ at all, in my opinion. Their responsibilities are even more specific, and very much less tailored to the individual students…I think.
So, how far does this get us? (let me know)
[To be continued……probably]