Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Disruption To The Educational System

Yes my writing is illegible...
I’m a teacher. This is a fact I mostly say with pride. I was inspired by the adverts when I was 25 (I’m 39 now) to change careers. More frequently now though, I find myself wondering what I would be doing if I’d stayed in my previous career.*

It’s not that schools mean to spoil the learning experience. It’s just that they make it difficult to really enjoy learning.

And I think there are two main reasons for it.

Along with one solution.

Reason One: As teachers, we think we're unique

I teach in a really nice school. No it really is! It’s a private school (which doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to be nice - every school - and in fact every institution has its issues) that’s unique. Unique because we don’t have a high percentage of students going on to Oxbridge. Unique because even though we have an entrance exam, we have pupils who are going to find GCSEs difficult. Unique because we’re relatively cheap for the area.

Unique because we really think we are doing the best for the pupils. And for the most part we are. It’s just…there’s something I find it difficult to articulate. It’s more of a vague unease.

Not because of the school. Not because of the parents. Not even because of the exams and exam boards.

I think it might be deeper and more systemic than that.

I feel it might be that we think we’re doing a good job with unique pupils. Or a unique job with good pupils. Perhaps even setting up good pupils with unique jobs. Either way, it’s all circular.

In truth though, every school is attempting to do the same thing we are: give everyone the best start to their working life.

As a teacher I think I’m unique. But actually I’m not.

Reason Two: We think we’re preparing young people for the real world

I teach GCSEs and A-Levels. I use books. I set homework. I get them to write according to mark schemes. I set up the hoops, then they jump through them. Or attempt to do so.

Some learn the game - they know it’s about grades, using particular phrases, organising themselves and doing what the exam boards want. So much so, I get asked “What do I need to do to get an A?"

This inevitably means my teaching isn’t about inspiration, learning, deep understanding or any real world experience.

It’s actually about the syllabus. The past paper. The next past paper. The model answer. The examiners’ report. The practice question. Culminating in: the exam paper.

Forget engaging, debating, finding, analysing, questioning or judging.

Sometimes I feel: forget truly learning and thinking.

I’m supposed to be preparing my pupils for a world that is changing more quickly with every passing generation - by doing exam papers?

I think I’m preparing young people for the real world.

Solution: Tell The Truth

I appreciate that this post is somewhat cynical. I do feel that teachers are amongst the most cynical people on the planet. On a daily basis, we’re exposed to the future of humanity. It’s not always pretty.

The solution to this, is to start telling the truth about what’s happening in schools.

Instead of this, teachers are subject to constant debate about pedagogic methods, arguing about the use of data, attempting to find the best way to quantify attainment, or even justifying progress according to the latest set of qualification levels.

Equally, the parental solution is currently not less teaching. It's more teaching - in the form of tutoring. By throwing money at tutors, parents feel they are supporting their children in getting the grade they need to enter the school or university of their (the parents and the children’s) aspirations.

The doorway to a better life.

It’s a simple thing to tell the truth. But a remarkably difficult thing to accomplish.

The time may be right for a disruption to the educational system.

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*I was a Data Planning Analyst. Don't ask.