This post is an assignment for the Theories of Music Education class that I’m taking. The actual information:tales of my ineptitude ratio is therefore different to my other posts and I apologise to those readers who follow this blog in search of the latter. The following recollections and wonderings occurred as I read the introductory material (links below).
Teachers of what?
Behind with INSET hours a few years ago, I attended a behaviour management session intended for secondary NQTs. The trainer went round the room asking us, all NQTs apart from myself and one other more experienced teacher, what we taught. We reeled off our specialist subjects. ‘No!’ said the trainer, rather triumphantly, ‘You are not teachers of music, or English, or maths. You are teachers of children!’ The NQTs looked embarrassed because they’d got the wrong answer. I wanted to disagree. Yes, I taught children in my music classroom – but only because I was so passionate about music that I wanted to share that passion with others. Would I have trained to teach children, or any age group, another subject? No.
Reading these articles, however, I wondered it is actually more pertinent to ask not whether we are teachers or children, but whether we provide children with the space and resources to teach themselves. After all, it is an easy mistake to assume that teaching ensures learning. Learners of any age have to be equipped to participate in the experience, both physically and mentally. We can all think of children who, for reasons beyond the control of the teacher (and sometimes the school), are unable to engage in productive learning. How many of us, as trainees or NQTs, were convinced that a particular child ‘was only interested in making my lessons difficult’, unaware of exactly how tough the child’s life was away from school – and we must remember that life is/should be about far more than school, for both children and teachers.
Of course, sometimes children and young people actively choose not to become learners: I recall the class where I made a count-down sheet so early into Year 11 that there were still 53 lessons remaining. I taught my arse off every lesson, but very few of them made the investment required in order to learn from my teaching. With that particular class, one problem was the syllabus. As the screenshot from infed.org shows, syllabus impacts on process and therefore product. The class had limited interest in the content and approaches required by the Edexcel GCSE specification, and the carrot of exam success rapidly became a stick. Had the pupils been able to devise their own syllabus, it is possible that they would also have taken responsibility for their own learning.
The mockingbird metaphor
Asked about his English homework, a Year 10 tutee once complained to me that ‘I’ve read nearly 60 pages and there still hasn’t been anything about a mockingbird!’. I had a similar feeling this weekend as I started reading The principles of scientific management, written by Frederick Winslow Taylor and published in 1911. I quickly became hooked, however, not only because it was actually quite interesting to learn about pig iron, brick-laying and bicycle ball-bearings (note that I said ‘learn about’. I have absolutely no intention of developing practical skills in these areas), but because the parallels to education were incredible. Here are a few bits that resonated with me:
Employers have hazy knowledge of what is required (48). This resonates very strongly with the most recent Secret Teacher article: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/oct/17/secret-teacher-school-leaders-quickly-forget-how-tough-teaching-is And if that’s the case for SLT, just how hazy is the knowledge of those in Whitehall? As Taylor says later on, “The greatest obstacle to harmonious cooperation between the workmen and the management lay in the ignorance of the management as to what really constitutes a proper day’s work for a workman” (p132).
Equal responsibility between management and workmen (89). This is complicated in schools: Should this apply to, for example, adults/children, teachers/learners/, managers/staff? Has the shift from SMT (managers) to SLT (leaders) made a notable difference to how schools operate, and how colleagues view one another? Is it correct to talk of giving responsibility to children when they are rarely accountable for the potential fall-out? Conversely, would schools be happier places if teachers were no longer held to account for the exam results of teenagers who, for whatever reason, do not take responsibility for their own progress? Do we sometimes place too much importance on ‘pupil voice’? There are times in some schools when senior prefects appear to be more up-to-date with leadership decisions than most of the staff: Is this ethical, both from the perspective of the adults and the children?
‘The best day’s work that a man could properly do, year in and year out, and still thrive under.’ (137). This sounds like the most beneficial situation for both employer and employee. And Richard Branson said the same thing last week.
‘A display of timidity is apt to increase rather than diminish the risk.’ (129). Echoed by all the first-placement student teachers facing Year 9s in the week before half term.
Despite his clear interest in the welfare of his workers, Taylor ultimately remains focused on increase productivity: ‘It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured…All of those who, after proper teaching, either will not or cannot work in accordance with the new methods and at the higher speed must be discharged by the management. The management must also recognize the broad fact that workmen will not submit to this more rigid standardization and will not work extra hard, unless they receive extra pay for doing it (127-8). Regarding teachers’ employment rights, this sounds harsh but fair. But if it were about pupils, is it also fair (to the individual, to their peers, to the adults investing time in their education) or is it wrong for schools, representing society as a whole, to give up on children who do not comply with their expectations?
Here’s one I didn’t finish yet
Finally, I’m still getting my head round definitions and understandings for the theories associated with education. Here’s a neater version of my to-think-about list, hopefully with more detail following soon.
Resources that influenced this post