Tuesday, 10 August 2010

TeachMeet Doncaster

Educo (v)– to draw out, to lead, to raise up, to praise, to rear
Online Dictionary (University of Notre Dame)

While writing this, the main thought buzzing around my head was: it is my job to create tomorrow’s teacher? If this was so, the focus then became what impact we have on the creation of the next generation of teachers.
Tomorrow’s Teacher will be the same as the teacher of today. It will require the same empathic nature that makes us able to communicate with others. It will require determination to push those who need pushing; the composure to restrict those who must be restricted; the compassion to comfort those who hope for comfort; the passion to inspire those who dream of greater things; the skills to influence those without direction; the knowledge to develop those who must be developed. In short, these things will always need doing; it is the nature of the job. What we must ask ourselves is what setting will these actions take place in? How will these skills and attributes be developed in order to fit into the wider world view? How can these be taught in an effective and modern way?
I’d like to say that I’d be tomorrow’s teacher. I think in some ways, that title is a misnomer. It is impossible to be Tomorrow’s Teacher today, unless you have a Delorian and Dr Emmett Brown. The most important consideration for Tomorrow’s Teacher, is that he must be allowed to teach in Tomorrow’s Workplace. Our education system is retrospective, harking back to regular factory jobs – a clocking in and out mentality. This is no longer the correct system in which to educate children. Schools were designed to prepare children for life in the outside world. Even now, as these children sit in lines, waiting for the bell to go, the need for this approach is dwindling. We must allow for this change and adapt our system in preparation for it. Otherwise we, as Today’s Teachers, are failing tomorrow’s.
Tomorrow’s Teacher will be resourceful; making use of whatever tools or time is available. He will be open to change and approach work creatively, varying the delivery and style of lesson. He will be realistic and honest with the children he cares for. He will be reflective in approaches and review his lessons proactively. He will be resilient, working through problems effectively and conscientiously.
As for the influx of technology and its integration into everyday life, those who ignore change, become obsolete. We need only look at the world around us to see that as true. Today’s Teacher needs to think about how he or she can improve and adapt in order to continue to be professional and relevant. I think about the lessons I do and how, I hope, they are tailored to the needs of the children. But part of me wonders if I, too, should be watching Hannah Montana or other programmes that my children watch? Should I go out and buy their music? The answer must surely be yes. Our career is based around a responsibility to prepare children for life in the real world. We need to know and understand their world and their needs, fears, hobbies. I’m not suggesting for one moment that Mrs Smith, a Reception teacher of nearly 40 years should suddenly go to Austria and learn to snowboard, but I am suggesting that she should have researched it and be equipped to talk about it if necessary.
Tomorrow’s Teacher needs to be flexible. With modern technology evolving at a tremendous pace, Tomorrow’s Teacher must embrace it and use it effectively. Yong Zhao, Head of the Confucius Institute at MSU, talked during a seminar about allowing today’s generation to access today’s technology. He stated, more eloquently than I do here, that they are simply ‘the best equipped to use it’. We guard it like a prized possession, afraid to use it in case something goes wrong; they break it in their efforts to push it to its limits. How many of Today’s Teachers think that by writing up their worksheet as a PowerPoint presentation, they are computer literate and embracing modern technology? I say they have not been given the opportunity to see the potential that these technologies bring.  They are simply rehashing the same worksheet, just making it tidier, more up to date.
The essence of innovation and growth is that it encourages change. No, it requires change. I feel that it is essential that teachers acknowledge the styles and approaches by which modern children live their lives – as this impacts directly on the way these children learn. You only need to look at the high proportion of children that learn better through ‘doing’. At least 50% of our children are now kinaesthetic learners, compared with a smaller percentage 7 years ago. Why? Technological advances for the Playstation Generation: The more interactive; the better.  I say that if teachers have not adapted to the needs of today’s children, then they are potentially failing Tomorrow’s Teachers.
The best way to improve the quality of teaching across the country is to be more rigorous during the application stage for trainee teachers. By this I don’t mean exclude those whose grades are not up to scratch, there is much more to teaching than just being able to write pedagogical essays, but rather be selective in the qualities of the individual selected for the course. There must be a higher academic bench mark for all of tomorrow’s teachers than there is today, but the basic assessment of their professionalism must lean more towards their competencies in the classroom, rather than the evocative rhetoric of their essays.
Teachers must be multi-faceted. I don’t remember every being taught this, but why should that be the case for teachers of tomorrow? Why can’t we teach children how to change their outlook, persona, style? When are we taught to be facilitators, co-workers, leaders? Not very often. We teach these life skills rarely in primary schools. Why? Because we are scared about getting it wrong. Surely teaching this would be more beneficial in the long run. We would then not have to rely on finding those people who inherently have the pre-requisite skills or those who are able to more effectively learn them; we could provide all children with opportunities to hone those skills and teach them how to learn more independently.  
Creating the teacher of tomorrow should have already started. The business theory of Kaizen – small incremental improvements, holds truer as a model for success than ever before. Efficacy and excellence are achieved through getting the little things right. It is through constantly re-assessing the relevance of what we do that makes us professional, not the framed qualification collecting dust in the loft. That is the real key to finding and keeping tomorrow’s teacher. It is by accepting that we still have something to learn, something to change. We still make mistakes and know how to correct them.
The organisation of today’s school system needs to change in order to allow this sort of teaching. By working with a more flexible approach to learning and individual learning needs, we can hope to raise standards in schools and also develop more adaptable and dynamic employees. I ensure that all children know how they learn best, and must decide for themselves what resources and help they require for each task, from a range of different sources. Some may choose a cue card, others to ask a partner, more still might attempt the task one way, stop and re-evaluate. The content of the task then becomes secondary to the skills developed when completing it. This, I believe, is the way we must approach teaching. The cries of: “Children still need to know facts!” falls on deaf ears. My reply is simple: No. They do not need to know facts. They need to know where to find facts.
The title, Tomorrow’s Teacher, again leads us to a quandary. Today’s Teacher will always be Yesterday’s Child. We constantly, as human beings, return to familiar settings and scenarios. We will, therefore, relate things in class to things we have done, use phrases or expressions that amuse us, link to, seemingly (at least from the children’s perspective), archaic programmes that would be relevant if only they were our age. We do this because it makes us feel safe or better about ourselves. So in order to prepare Tomorrow’s Teachers we, the children of yesterday, must teach them well today.

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