This article is not about ICT or Computing as such, but given the acute shortage of Computing teachers it does, I think, provide some additional food for thought. I attended a Westminster Forum conference recently. This looked at the key issues of teacher shortages and professional development. You can buy the transcript of the conference, or persuade your school CPD officer (if you have one) or school librarian (ditto) to do so.
A number of things struck me in particular:
I have always thought of teaching as a profession, based on the fact that I have a Bachelor degree in my original subject (Economics), a Masters degree in Education, and a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education, which is a qualification indicating that I have been trained to teach. That’s a lot of studying.
However, teachers in England and many other parts of the world are not treated as professionals. For me, there are several tests of whether an occupation really is perceived as a profession:
First, respect from the general public. There was a time that the public held teachers in high esteem, but I fear that is less the case now.
Second, a large degree of self-determination, in terms of what to teach, how to teach it, how to assess it, and the professional development required to learn how better to do these things.
I don’t have too much of a problem with Government dictating what to teach: I think a common core or National Curriculum can be very useful, especially when it comes to pupils’ acquiring basic skills, knowledge and understanding. But having stipulated what to teach, politicians should, in my opinion, let teachers get on with it.
Think about it: I have a Masters degree in Economics Education, which means I have looked into lots of aspects of how to teach Economics. I don’t know everything about it, but I’m pretty sure I know more than the average politician.
I taught, and have been involved in the teaching of, ICT and Computing for 30 years. Again, I like to think I know more about that than the average politician.
We have politicians telling teachers who are English graduates when exclamation marks are OK to use, or to encourage pupils to use ‘wow’ words — despite much evidence that professional writers, i.e. those who earn their living from writing, do not agree with such edicts.
In the field of Computing, we have people who know about Computing but who have never taught, telling teachers how to teach it.
Given that politicians and other non-experts don’t tell doctors how to conduct their examinations, or barristers how to prepare their cases, one can only conclude that teachers are not regarded as professionals.
Also, as a professional, and, fortunately, self-employed, I can make up my own mind as to whether or not a course or other form of CPD is useful, and therefore whether or not to attend it. Many teachers are compelled to attend in-school training days that are useless — see It’s your time you’re wasting for an hilarious description of this phenomenon. At the same time, they are not permitted to attend courses to help them teach Computing. Professionals are expected to keep their knowledge up-to-date, and to choose how best to do so. Many teachers are unable to meet these criteria, through no fault of their own.
For these reasons I support, cautiously, the idea of the Chartered College of Teachers, which seeks to professionalise the teaching profession. I say “cautiously” because I find its web presence so confusing (different Facebook, Twitter, email and website addresses) thatI have my doubts as to whether it can make itself known to enough teachers to become a going concern. However, I understand from Professor Angela McFarlane’s talk that the College is making haste slowly, which is a sensible idea. Also, its Advisory Group has some well-known and respected people on it. It’s definitely worth checking out their aimsand other details if you live in the UK. Here’s the website: Claim Your College.
Another aspect of professionalism is being able to innovate in your classroom, but when I am running my courses in assessing Computing I find time and time again that teachers are constrained in what they are allowed to do in their own classroom. Surely being a professional involves, by definition, being able to use one’s professional judgement, but that often appears to not be the case.
One of the questions I asked at the conference was:
“What should a new teacher do, or a new teacher in a school do when they have that mind set about wanting to do research, but the headteacher has dogmatically insisted that we are an X school, where X could be flip learning, bring your own device, anything, but in the headteacher’s quest to be that school it kind of stops any individual research from going on?”
I was very heartened by the response of Dr Robin Bevan, Headteacher, Southend High School for Boys, Essex. He said:
“I think that there is no doubt that one of the defining features of a high quality teacher is autonomy and I would even push it slightly towards the anarchic, by which I mean to be a highly effective teacher you have to be willing to break out of the constraints that are placed on you.”
He then went on to suggest that if you have an idea for something you’d like to try out, ask to run it as a pilot — an approach I wholeheartedly agree with.
Finally, I should point out that he did go on to say that if a school is in the process of dealing with difficulties, it is perfectly reasonable for expectations to be standardised at first.
I think this is a good point, and it raises a wider issue that it would not be appropriate to explore here, which is that being a maverick, or doing out-of-the-ordinary things, is something of a luxury. I always tried to do interesting and exciting things with my classes, and have a good laugh along the way — but only once I’d established routines and discipline. I suspect that headteachers in difficult circumstances have a similar balance to strike.
Incidentally, Dr Bevan undertook some interesting research into concept mapping, which he wrote up as a case study for his Mirandanet Fellowship. You can read that here: Mirandanet Fellowship case study — http://www.mirandanet.org.uk/casestudies/193.
STOP PRESS! Between writing this article and publishing the newsletter, I discovered an article that highlighted the complete absence of autonomy. That prompted me to write this article: 10 questions arising from lazy thinking in ICT and computing in schools.
Routes into teaching in England
Finally, apparently there are many routes into teaching in England. There used to be just two, and as the number of routes multiplied to the point that I had no idea what they all were, I assumed that the confusion was all mine.
That turns out not to be the case at all: the whole area is confusing. Obviously, I could find out what all the routes are, but that’s not the point. I (still) encourage people to go into teaching, which I’ve always regarded as a very noble profession. But if and when they say “Yes, that’s what I’ll do!”, what options are there, and which is the best — for them?
There really does need to be clear guidelines, and consistency between routes. For example, it would be good if there was a common body of theoretical knowledge (pertaining to pedagogy) that student teachers have to learn, so that those who go for learning on the job don’t lose out.
After I’d written the above, I thought I was going to have to delete it. Why? Because I discovered the Government’s “Get into teaching” website. Unfortunately, it’s not the one-stop shop I thought it would be: you still have to look at the courses offered by individual training institutions.
Still, its options page is a starting point.
As I noted at the start, this article was not about education technology but I hope you feel it was worthwhile reading anyway, as a sort of background piece. I don’t know about teacher training in general, or Computer teacher training in particular, in countries other than my own. If you do, or of you have any comments on the issues raised here, do get in touch.
This article first appeared in the July 2016 issue of Digital Education, the free ezine ennjoyed by thousands of ICT and Computing teachers around the world.
In the interests of transparency, I should mention that I was given a media pass to attend this conference.
In the article above I mentioned dreadful training days. I think that a potentially very useful form of professional development is attending a conference. In my recently-published book I give tips on how to maximise your chances of being allowed to attend a conference, how to prepare for it, and how to get the most out of it once you're there. The book is called Education Conferences: Teachers' guide to getting the most out of education conferences. Click the link for more information.