|Pay attention, everyone!|
A lifetime ago, I used to try to teach people things, getting them to a place where they could compete with the best, get in to good universities, follow careers and generally prepare them to be productive members of society. It wasn’t a bad way to spend one’s working life, I suppose, and over the years, I’ve seen the whole educational kaleidoscope played out in a multitude of ways. It seems obvious that someone who gets a class to make cardboard models of a Roman fort is made of different stuff intellectually to a colleague teaching how to approximate square roots, say, by the Newton-Raphson method which isn’t particularly difficult but requires a different level of concentration and engagement. (Be honest. How many of you clicked the link?) But, what is taught is of much less consequence than how it is taught. Different methods demonstrate that teaching is, of course, mixed ability, rather like the classes that sit in front of them. Engaging a class is a craft, requiring the expenditure of a good deal of emotional energy. Good teachers are passionate about this. They hope people ask deep questions, develop ideas and use what they have learned. Holding a class in the palm of one’s hand is worth more than apes, ivory or peacocks, as are the magic words ‘I never understood that before…’. But, it’s not always like that. Sometimes, the dynamics don’t work. Some students simply want to disrupt, because they can and it amuses them to do so. I once taught in a school in Kuwait where behaviour was so bad that teachers ran, sobbing, from the room or refused to cross the threshold. One boy – his father owned the school – took three of his friends roof-climbing instead of attending his English class and was helpless with laughter when the principal tried to threaten, then coax him down as they bombarded him with nuts.
|‘Education, education, education’ (Tony Blair|
Meantime, the rest of the class, fully aware of where the absentees were, rioted quietly as the teacher waved his arms about.
Two bad back-to-back classes can leave even experienced practitioners feeling drained and eviscerated. What, I wonder, makes a good teacher? I used to mentor new entrants to the profession, jump through endless hoops to justify any comments I made and the conclusions I came to. The bottom line, however, was really very simple. Assuming a candidate was appropriately well-versed in his particular corpus of knowledge, after about twenty minutes watching them in action I could tell whether someone was going to make it or not. Mostly it was body language, quick-wittedness and an indefinably Thespian feel to events in the classroom which made up my mind. And, mostly, I was right.
Here’s the little clever-trousers snapped for posterity when still a ghastly oik at the back of the room, peppering his teachers with questions to which he already knew the answers. When he applied for a job at Conservative Research Department he was turned down because he was ‘insufficiently political’, also ‘insufficiently conservative’. He then got a job as a journalist, which he seemed reasonably good at. So, what have we got so far? Slick operator, both verbally and on paper, with a chip on his shoulder. After less than seven years in Parliament, he snags a Cabinet job about which he knows nothing and it’s time to get his own back, which he seems to be doing with remarkable ruthlessness. Clicking on the cartoon makes it larger.
|‘Independence Day’ starring Michael Gove|
He is going to make kids memorise stuff again, which isn’t of itself a bad thing, unless it happens to be the chronology of the British Monarchy instead of the War Poets. The first will make you a republican, the second a pacifist. Go figure. All this floating by rote will have to be done with larger classes because some previous incompetent hadn’t figured out that more kids of a particular age will need more space in which to house them to memorise stuff, so groundsmen’s sheds all over the country will now become music rooms. He’s been told that he has to big up the teaching profession and tell everyone how wonderful it is when it’s transparently obvious that he thinks they’re a crowd of indolent, time-serving lollygaggers. No wonder the NUT tabled a motion of no confidence in him at their 2013 Conference and, to quote the gentleman out of context, returning his own words to him, when he “weeps hot tears for a life spent serving an ideology of wickedness will he ever be worth listening to”. The ideology of wickedness, is, of course, his own flamboyantly inflatable ego.
|Rosalind Franklin b July 25th 1920|
Today is Rosie Franklin’s birthday – there’s even a Google logo of her. She was a brilliant scholar, my professor’s professor at Birkbeck, a pioneer in DNA crystallography and was robbed of the Nobel by Watson and Crick. Doubtless for her, the latter was true.