Teaching holds a peculiar status in the Western world. Despite mixed messages in the media, teachers are often well liked by parents and students who know them. Even occasionally immature student diatribes are always capped with a bizarrely deferential ‘Sir’ or ‘Miss’!
This status is, in part, due to the responsibility of teachers, especially humanities teachers, to guide students in making life choices and to help them develop a sense of what is moral.
However, for decades there has been a loud call for teaching to present itself as a profession, that teachers should charge for ‘inspiration’ by the hour.
Would this lead to attracting and retaining our best teachers?
Is there, in our best teachers, a set of values and dispositions already inculcated?
And what causes the charismatic teacher to sometimes flop, while the quiet one thrives presumably against expectations?
I found, when training teachers at York University, that vocational values are not easily discernible in the training process. In the same way that customer service can be delivered with factual fulfilment, yet no sense of care, teachers can deliver results without inspiring passionate learning. We rightly task teachers to make people curious about things they should really be interested in, but for some reason are not.
Passionless, shallow learning can be triggered by the uneasy relationship some students have with authority figures. The students most able to learn come to the classroom with at least one good relationship with authority already fostered. Yet affection for authority figures often, for the British, transgresses into ridicule – see recent literature from Dickens to The Beano. Portraying schoolmasters as figures of (unspoken) fun is a method of showing the fluctuating power relationships between a master and a student.
Such a dynamic relationship would be essential, though, for those aristocrats sent to live as wards to be educated away from their family. Here the values of the teacher would be seen as considerable as their academic ability. This vocational purpose of nurturing well-being, on the radar after being established as the purpose of education for the Greeks, is a difficult one for a profession to quantify and hence genuinely promote.
The desire to quantify teaching comes from the corporate belief that institutions thrive better by focusing on systems rather than relying upon individuals. Maverick teachers can also raise issues of whether a parent wants their child to be taught by a different teacher. This is often based not on results, but rather charisma. A corporate model of teaching also shifts teachers around schools based on perceived need, further breaking relationships and prioritising systems.
The strongest inclination to prioritise the professional aspect of teaching amongst teachers, however, is in managing workload. The bureaucracy can be crushing. Those teachers and schools with the confidence and courage to manage workload do not need to professionally charge by the hour to complete paperwork, but rather use established, innovative methods to do so – this is a consideration at school-level, not teacher-level.
Ultimately, the vocational element of teaching should be the responsibility of those outside each teaching institution. We should expect each teacher to come to the classroom with his/her own reasons to teach. Ultimately, paying and educating teachers equal to those in other professions such as medicine and law, attracts the very best academically. However, nurturing a teacher’s vocation is the responsibility of all those who have influenced that person. Such human relations can never truly be institutionalised or professionalised, which is why seeing teaching as a profession over all else is problematic.
By Gregory Anderson
Gregory is currently an educator at the Dubai English Speaking College. He holds a PGCE in English and Drama from the University of York. He has written extensively on pedagogy and lifestyle. To view some of his work, visit http://www.thequillguy.com/.