Are teachers letting our children down, because they’re not really teaching anymore, but merely hitting targets?

Teaching is more than just teaching isn’t it?

I don’t think I could be a good teacher. I don’t have the patience to plant a seed of an idea, wait for it to take root and explode triumphantly onto the surface with a spark of light-bulb euphoria. I would not be able to manage the subtlety of hinting at an idea and let realisation take its course, I’d just give out the answer and be done with it.

But then I’m not employed as a teacher. The staff at my kids’ school are though. However I’m not really sure even some of them truly subscribe to the sacrosanct ethos of teaching. Well at least not by the standard I would hope.

My son is in the first year of two-year IGCSEs. His English teacher has decided, somewhat unilaterally, to take him off Language & Literature and downgrade him (essentially, for that is what it is) to English Language only.

According to what she has told him, she doesn’t think he’ll be able to do the work required and he’d have a better chance at getting a higher grade if he just does English language. She may well be right. Just one problem with that, my boy was actually quite keen to do literature.

He’s not brilliant at it, his grades in English were middling, but not bad. However he was curious enough to want to have a go. Surely, as we are so fond of frequently memeing, it’s better to have tried and failed than not have tried at all, right?

Several things strike me about what’s happened here though. Teachers these days seem to be under constant pressure to just train (and I deliberately use the word ‘train’) students towards passing a set series of assessments (tests) to get good overall grades – so that ultimately the school looks good, improves its national scores, can attract more students and charge higher fees.

This therefore has nothing to do with the actual process of teaching, which in my book is all about encouraging, inspiring and enlightening. Kids and young people generally don’t know what they want in life at the beginning, therefore learning and education is as much a discovery of self as it is of the outside world and an important part of this process of personal evolution.

This of course can be stymied by a dictatorial teacher who is content to merely instruct students to achieve the required level of formal qualifications, rather than achieve their actual potential.

There are other aspects to this too – and here’s one that proves the fault with this approach alone. A few years back my wife volunteered me to help out with the literary festivals competition entries at the school, and I spent a couple of days going through prose and poetry submissions from the students.

Apart from a meagre handful, overall not only was the standard of submissions truly appalling (most of them should never have got past the scrutiny of even the most moderate teacher) but some were straight copies of content simply plagiarised or even lifted wholesale from the internet – it took mere seconds to type in a sentence or two and find the proof of that (again something the teacher should have done). The attitude of the students appeared to be simply to just get the task done – not to actually take pride and delight in the privilege of crafting something new and original.

Obviously I reported this back to the school. That probably didn’t go down too well. Wonder if that’s what has come back around to bite me in the child?

Whilst part of me balks at the injustice of what has happened and remains somewhat apoplectic, I take solace in the fact that not all the teachers are this way of course, as evidenced by my lad doing well at some of the subjects he was dreading the most – mostly down to him liking, appreciating and respecting the teacher.

And perhaps I’m being unfair, maybe it is just the pressure to conform to set syllabuses and achieve strong rote results that is stifling true learning, not actually a lack of care on the part of the teacher. But then that reflects a more serious underlying fundamental flaw in the prevailing academic system, and lays bare its ineffectiveness to truly prepare our children for the challenges of an ever-changing modern 21st Century world.

I guess my thoughts regarding the reform necessary to replace this antiquated education system with a more practical and practicable system, are best reserved for a separate rant. Meanwhile I’ll sign off with a quote from Albert Einstein:

‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.’


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