Sunday 29 September 2013

The Purpose of Education: Making a Difference

Twenty years ago I began my teaching my first primary school class. This was some years later than I might have anticipated. My original intention, to teach History at secondary school, was scuppered when my finance for my MA fell through and I had to work for a living. Finding myself in the misogynist's haven and creative abyss that was the insurance industry in the City of London, and being neither a 'barrow boy', the owner of an old school tie nor a serial philanderer, realised my calling lay elsewhere.

I never wanted to be an insurance broker, I wanted to be a ....

I wanted to be a ...

Twenty years on, I haven't looked back. However many teachers do not last the course, and education is not a profession they remain in for a range of reasons: pressure of OFSTED, management or behaviour management; the demands upon their time; greater financial reward elsewhere.

Which brings me to the topic of September's Blogsync: The Purpose of Education.

Simply put, I believe the Purpose of Education to be to make a difference in the lives of those we work with, the children. 

By difference I do not mean getting a struggling child to level 4, or to Grade C at GCSE, though of course those are hugely important to the student. Nor do I mean coaxing a child to perform in just the right way at the very moment the inspector enters the room. If any of  my former pupils achieve fame and fortune, they aren't going to appear on 'The One Show' recalling revision sessions or SATS papers. No! They will remember setting the classroom up as if we had been burgled overnight, class assemblies presented as a mythical journey or as an episode of Doctor Who, memorable trips and humorous moments. 

Think of the films that celebrate teaching. Goodbye Mr Chips, To Sir With Love, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The History Boys. All have teachers that inspire, engross and impact the lives of the students they encounter. The students all achieve, but with that extra special ingredient- engagement, the achievement really means something. Engagement is something that OFSTED look for, and it is explicitly stated in the revised Framework, but engagement is that key element, that secret to unlocking the potential within each child.

Coincidentally I sat my A-levels in the same year as the film was set.

One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.”

 The History Boys

“We don't read and write poetry because its cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is full of passion.” 
Dead Poets Society

Education has the power to make a difference in the lives of our young people. Engaging them in powerful and effective ways can convince them that their learning has a vital place in their future. There have been suggestions that white working class boys in particular are disengaged from learning ( and my own experience would bear this out:

 'He'll be alright! He don't need no qualifications to get by!'

'Bloody teachers, think you know it all don'tcha!'

'My mum says I don't have to do what I'm told in school and if you say otherwise she's coming down here to sort you out!'

I remember all these from my very first year, very typical of parents who were in an anti-school and anti-authority culture in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps trapped in a cycle of generational unemployment. 

Well these days 'He won't be alright'; in the 1970s school leavers could turn up on a building site build a wall and be a bricklayer by lunchtime, now they can't get beyond the gates without certificates. We need to go beyond simply insisting upon attendance, attention and homework completion; we have to give these meaning and purpose. There is no right or wrong way to do that, but the armoury of intellectual and persuasive weapons at our disposal can enable us as educators to empower the youngsters in our charge with the skills for the future and to step forth with aspirations.  

I think of the teachers who engaged me: Mrs Dalrymple and Mr McCann at primary school; Chris and Pauline Collier who lit the flame of my love of History; John Wohlers, who scared us all to death but got the whole class grade A or B at O-level Maths, Janet Lawley, who never taught me but whose very presence oozed her love of learning and her vision. These names don't go away, but those who didn't inspire are hard to recall. 

Few of us can hope to be 'Legends', or 'ledge' in the children's parlance, but at least we can hope to be remembered for a few years. 

1 comment:

  1. Another powerful testament to the power of memorable teaching.