Education, and even schooling, continues to make headlines.
Inter alia, there is Federal Education Minister Nelson’s enquiry into teacher-training which is, so far, a bipartisan concern with Coalition and Labor co-chairs. Let’s hope it stays that way. It is tackling a very important matter – how well beginning teachers are prepared for their classroom careers, and by implication, therefore, placing a higher value on Essential Schoolings, to borrow and adapt a current vogue expression.
Imagine that you discover, while being gurneyed to the operating theatre, that your youngish-looking surgeon had A-grades in Neo-Marxist Interpretations of Trepanning 1D, had passed with Honours Advanced Gender Issues in Surgical Garment Supplies, but had not been required to do any “prac work” more rigorous than watching episodes of All Saints and ER.
The media [for what that’s worth] have long reported dissatisfaction with what universities have done to teacher-training, and there is an impression abroad that “education” courses are staffed by theorists, often ideologically-driven, who are as remote from the classrooms of the nation as they can be. Courses like Neo-Marxist Interpretations of Pedagogy and Advanced Gender Issues in HSC^ Subject Selection are, it seems, not entirely fictional.
So what core skills of the craft of teaching should neophytes in this noble profession be learning ?
But first, an important distinction: this is not a question about teacher education.
When unease first began to surface
People aspiring to teach should already be educated in their teaching subjects: it ought to be assumed that not only would they already have a thoroughly detailed knowledge of them, but also that they would have a high level of understanding and an empathetic appreciation of those subjects.
No, this is a question about the quintessential skills of the craft of teaching.
At the start of the 90s, when unease first began to surface about what really went on in university “Schools of Education”, a Letter to the Editor by a David McRae, a former teacher who called himself an education consultant, concluded as follows:
These are the basic responsibilities of teachers. They must be able to define and choose strong, rich material, pitched at a level that will challenge students. They must be well organised, because only by being well organised will they survive the 1-to-25 or 1-to-30 [teacher:student] ratio, provide the range of tasks suitable for any normal class and the security young people demand. They must establish and maintain clear expectations for their students and define the direction of progress and the boundaries for work tasks. They must be very good at explaining, because that is the heart of teaching, finding ways for advances in understanding to connect with and build on what is already known.
They must establish a solid, regular workflow and get their correction done reasonably quickly. This process should provide a means of monitoring progress and providing feedback for their students, and in important respects should shape the direction and pace of the course. They must be able to report honestly and accurately on their students’ work.
These are the things that distinguish teachers from social workers or nurses or police. They are the things teachers need to be good at. They are the things that ought to be publicly noted and rewarded if we want good teachers. There would be an immediate and dramatic improvement in the quality of teaching and effectiveness of learning if we could be sure that these things were being done consistently, conscientiously and professionally across the board.
(David McRae is an education consultant and former teacher.
The [Melbourne] Age, Tuesday 15 September 1992)
In the words of “Feed the Man Meat” spokesman Sam Kekovich: “You know it makes sense”.
It made sense when teachers were actually taught to teach in Teachers’ Colleges.
It made sense 13 years ago.
It still makes sense now.