Ok, with the reintroduction of the married persons tax allowance I was almost thinking about voting Tory at the next election. However, yesterday I came back down to earth and remembered the problem…they take a bit of a good idea and blow it. The BBC and Guardian amongst others have covered Cameron’s ideas for elitist teaching.
Here is my response, as a teaching professional who has in my time achieved an award from the college I was working in for outstanding teaching and learning, (following being judged as outstanding in an internal inspection) and more importantly somebody who has taught several cohorts of students who have achieved above their target grades in my subject, many getting A-C grades at A Level. I have also taught on access programmes where a number of students have gone on to do teaching degrees. (Note this is not put in to show off in anyway, but to show that I might just be a good teacher and know what I’m talking about on the subject in hand). In addition to teaching I have also been a course leader for a group of social science and humanities subjects and a senior tutor/ course leader for A2 within the academic section of college. This was a role which included being involved in recruitment.
Anyway, here goes with what might turn into a rant. I agree with Cameron’s assessment that anybody with a third class degree or lower should probably not be a teacher. However, within the speech there is also descrimination, (particularly in terms of funding), against those who have 2:2’s and went to new universities…people like me, infact. In my experience many of the best teachers have done their first degrees as mature students, often with the OU or through one of the new universities. The reason we generally make good teachers is because we have the life experience to understand our students whilst giving no room for complacency or excuse. Somebody comes to me with time management issues and I can not only give them strategies, I can empathise because I know what it is like to juggle full time work with A Levels, (and a MA incidently) and part-time work, (as well as a baby), with an undergraduate degree.
Also, Cameron’s plans do not allow for those of us who take our time to work up to a good university. I am now studying for my M Litt in a Theology department which can describe itself in the following way, “The Department is pleased to announce that in the Research Assessment Exercise for 2008, it has been ranked at no. 1 among all departments of theology and religion in the UK in two categories: (a) the highest percentage of publications at 4* (world-leading research) and (b) the highest Grade Point Average for these publications. This is a major achievement, which confirms Durham University’s position as a front-rank institution for Theology and Religion and reflects its continuing leadership in the academic discipline.”
Yet and here is the thing, I started off with awful A Level results which meant I went to the one place in the country which would accept me to do a degree, through clearing. It was a higher education college, (now a new uni), which gave degrees validated by a good uni. I got a 2:2 from there. After my falling apart period I did a MA course part time, but just came out with a post graduate diploma because I didn’t quite get the dissertation done.
For me it was doing my PGCE which allowed me to fly. I went into the classroom and after an initially difficult start on the course found something, possibly for the first time in my life, I was reasonably good at. After my PGCE I eventually did my MA, (part time again), at a university Cameron would describe as one of the better uni’s, (but probably not good as it is only about 50 years old), and achieved a merit. I am now studying for my M Litt at what Mr. Cameron would describe as a good university. Oh, and I’m not sure how me being a teacher who has dyslexia, (something only diagnosed within the last couple of years), would rate me in Mr. Cameron’s world.
I tell my story to illustrate how teaching can allow “average” achievers to bloom into much higher achievers if it is the right thing for them. Similarly, if you looked you would probably find many people who have got excellent qualifications on paper aren’t right for a classroom. Patience, creativity, good communication skills, enthusiasm, the willingness to go the extra mile in the preperation of resources or support of students …these, aswell as clear, consistent boundaries and a good understanding of the subject, are what make a good or indeed outstanding teacher. Under Cameron’s plans to make teaching a “brazenly elitist” occupation I would have struggled to make it anywhere near a classroom.
Another aspect of all this though, is what level of teaching is right for a graduate of that level to keep them stimulated. I know a wonderful Maths student ,who has a first in her undergraduate degree from an excellent uni and is about to submit her PhD thesis at another really good uni; just the sort of person Cameron wants to attract into a teaching career. I also know that she would make an excellent teacher, but at the right level. If she went into teaching I have no doubt she would make the best impact and be working most strongly to her strengths in one of the new uni’s. If she went into a classroom full of 13 year olds in the type of school Cameron wants to attract these teachers to I think they would eat her alive, or she would end up on a disciplinary for being too forthright with them. Most importantly though, I know she would probably end up getting bored in a school because if it worked out and she did become a good teacher she would be quickly promoted, due to all those skills Cameron is looking for, and end up far too quickly as an administrator rather than a teacher….that’s the way the profession works.
Anyway rant over.