By Simon Goulden
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of articles in both learned journals and more popular publications, such as The Economist, about the challenge of teaching the teachers. Now, we are told to forget small classes, lavish resources (iPads for all) and perhaps even new school buildings – designed to win awards if not make it easy to teach and learn. Amazingly, the secret to outstanding grades and thriving students is… teachers!
It seems that we have been slaves to the assumption that good teachers are born, not made. In the recent past, government policies, of all stripes, have sought to raise teaching standards by attracting high-flying graduates to join the profession and by encouraging poor teachers to leave. Teach First, modeled on Teach for America, has certainly done that whilst some others will tell you that if only teachers were set free from a centralised, top down ‘straightjacket,’ learning excellence would surely follow.
But there is a problem. It seems clear that, even though teaching is now an all-graduate profession, what teachers fail to learn in universities and teacher-training colleges is rarely picked up on the job. Research shows that they become better teachers in their first few years as they learn how to deal with real pupils in real classrooms, but after that, it seems that improvements tail off. This may well be because schools forget that their most important pupils are the teachers themselves.
Fortunately there is a new breed of teacher-trainers being developed around the world, founding a rigorous science of pedagogy – quite simply, the science and art of how to teach. The aim is to make ordinary teachers great, just as good sports coaches help athletes of all abilities improve their personal best. When you look at the stellar results achieved in Finland, Singapore and Shanghai, you can see that giving teachers inflated salaries may not be the answer. Making teaching an elite profession, offering the chance for peer mentoring and feedback, valuing non-contact time, all these things enhance the status – and by extension the quality and results – of teaching. With a crisis looming in the quantum of teachers being produced throughout England, and especially in the Jewish school sector with the rapid growth in the Jewish school sector, what is our community doing about it?