Teaching is something teacher’s do to students. In most cases, it’s called a profession as we get paid for it and show up weekdays to do it. Like all professions, teaching is a collection of applied skills and knowledge that shifts with society. It is not like a book that remains static. This modulation of skill, practice and knowledge includes cultural and technological shifts. The fact those happing right now are digital does not mean they are separate to what happened before. Take the microscope for example, it was the iPhone of it’s day to an enthusiastic section of society. Teaching today is driven by neo-liberal ideologies which are deeply connected to globalisation and consumerism. Teaching is a political act, so while we can moan about it, the truth is that teaching is linked to sales, profits and increasing marginalisation of sections of society.
A professional teacher can only carry out their work effectively if they can fully appreciate the delicate balance between educational theory and research and the sociological axes which in the last decade have favoured consumerism over open source and evidence. From that, they make informed choices — and return to the readings (and keep reading) about education and the service of professional teaching.
This is perhaps the biggest reason I stopped paying attention to the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ on Twitter etc., a few years ago. I joined the 2006-8 global vanguard with high hopes and enthusiasm to ‘hack the system’ and for a good while, I learned a ton of things which ultimately has fed into my PhD. Yet for me, what was once a vibrant peer-network exploring the potential of technology to help professional teaching has turned into a cacophony of voices who promote themselves though their promotion of certain brands. Some do this shamelessly while other wrap it in faux-theory which is often full of logical fallacies. To be convincing, they use media to invent demons, problems, issues and of course solutions. Overall, I don’t think this actually matters in the reality of the classroom as less than 10% of the world use Twitter anyway where as 100% of professional teachers undertook an under-graduate degree.
The battle for quality teachers remains in the tutorial rooms and lecture halls of first and second year teachers. It’s here that we have the opportunity to interrupt and redirect their ‘cultural baggage’ away from their own experiences as students and to focus on what the profession should be.
I get very irritated when I hear new and newish teachers proclaim they skipped the readings or didn’t attend lectures. From their new found authoritative position in society, they gleefully write off their behaviour as being wise and effective. We then find teachers who have a low understanding and respect for the research whom soon reach their professional capacity when it comes to creativity, innovation and empathy with popular culture and technology. By and large I’d argue those who skipped the readings largely apply on their own memories of being a student to their practice – complete with all the biases, assumptions and halo-effects of what the recall as ‘good teaching’. I get even more cross when they fire the punitive-canon at some kid to make them ‘get on task’ and it fails. Don’t come and ask me what do that is more punitive as though familiarity is a bigger bore. This is a reading problem, not a kid problem.
Of course no one can make them do the readings. But as Universities are enrolling thousands (yes, thousands) of potential ‘new teachers’ each semester, we are faced with a problem much bigger than whether or not they’ll use an iPad over a worksheet. The is a sizeable over-supply of teachers, whom simply didn’t do the readings or attend lectures and are now looking for work. At the same time, professional development of practicing teachers is being pushed from being centrally necessary to the profession to the edges of Twitter and the world of #edchat which to me is no more professional than me posting comments on my favourite Alfa Romeo forum. Yes, we all love Alfas here, what’s your favourite.
If we, the profession, are to develop effective maker-spaces, put games like Minecraft to work and create imaginative, well designed spaces to learn in, then we can’t also accommodate the reading-skipper-class or those who rely almost entirely on authoritative or punitive pedagogy. We will be drawn back into the vortex of worksheets and procedural activities based on a Blooms verbal triangles.
There is still a lot of reason to do the readings, and although too much research is locked up behind the pay-wall – there is still plenty to discover online away from “I reckon” posts like this. Find that stuff, share that stuff around the school and after a while, start to realise that much of the last decades angst has been generated by consumerism rather than ‘digital childhood’. I assure you, kids still love to play, learn and make around adults, if what the adults are doing is meaningful. You don’t need an iPad or to follow GooglePrincess to do that — if you’re still reading.