I was reading Jenny Luca’s post entitled No idea: a post to read. I then read about a post by a young teacher, Todd Seal, about how he is feeling in the classroom. Most of the comments also reflected that same feeling I got from the post. The “feel” was of a sense of loneliness or “aloneness” in the classroom by the teachers or, more specifically, secondary school teachers. I have been working in schools for many years now and have tried to overcome this sense that teaching, by necessity, has to be done in isolation.
Why do so many teachers work alone? Is it through choice or design? I would suggest that it is a combination of both. The training of new teachers seems to have remained basically the same since the early nineteen hundreds, if not longer. Sure the tools have changed but it seem that trainee teachers still come out with the view of teaching an classrooms. That their place of work is a closed space, often the arrangement of the furniture dictating that students work with the teacher at the front.
The secondary school teacher comes into a school environment where content is taught as separate and discrete subjects although we know in the real world there are no such discrete breakdown. Teachers should be encouraged to be self-reliant and independent and there is nothing inherently wrong with that but they do not have to be alone. The expectations of the Education authorities, together with parents and future employers who also have a view, can lead the teacher to believe that. You only have to look how testing is used, for example the “league table” in the media, where getting the “right” answer to get the high marks seems to the main game. The worry is always that student will be taught to “do” the tests and not problem-solving, analytical skills, that can be harder to mark. The development of young people, the learning they have achieved, from wherever they started from, is not often discussed in any depth. And, should schools simply teach to fit students straight into specific jobs? This is especially relevant when we know that the working world is rapidly changing, with traditional jobs slowly disappearing and new ones developing. Media perceptions about education and learning/teaching and the pressure by these parties to maintain the status quo in general does not make it easy to change. The debates about good teacher and bad teachers go around in the media but ask a student. The answer is likely to be that the good teacher is the one who connected with them and helped them connect with the concepts and in a collaborative way. (And I have talked with students on the topic!)
I guess I have always approached learning (and teaching) from the point of view of the skills, not the content, and just how skills are. or should be, transferable. If you understand the skills behind and reasons for the lessons you are teaching, than there are many ways to be more connected and less alone. The new technologies are giving us so many more opportunities to improve student engagement in learning. No teacher has to be alone in developing their curriculums, lessons, etc. There are curriculum support personnel at our school, myself and the other teacher librarians, as well as staff in the areas of learning enhancement, learning support and learning technologies, capable and willing to work with teachers in the classroom. There are those who have taken the opportunity to work in tandem with these personnel. The positive outcomes with respect to the learning of the students has been fantastic but there are still other staff who are still not comfortable with others in their classrooms.
The other major step forward is the amazing social media tools that can be utilised. I have commented before that all teachers should be “out there” on the web. There are many amazing blogs and wikis, where people are sharing how they approach all sorts of information, use various teaching tools and they often include evaluations. I would love all our teachers to be reading blogs, even if they are not comfortable enough to write their own. There is less and less reason to feel alone and less and less reason to be alone. How much longer should any teacher remain working in the isolation of their classroom? The students they are teaching are certainly living in a world that is vastly different. The hardest step is the first, initial one.
My rant for the holidays!