Policing other people’s teaching

When December rolls around, I get annoyed by the inevitable complaints of people proclaiming that it is too early to put up the Christmas tree. Why does it matter to people so much? There is no rule about this. If you don’t want yours up, don’t put it up. If you do, do. I was particularly tickled by this article on the Daily Mash, which I now make a point of sharing with people who make a fuss.

Unfortunately, a lot of this goes on in teaching, as well. I’m not talking about the big stuff: of course if someone’s teaching methods are (a) hindering student progress or (b), arguably as bad, not creating progress whilst at the same time being a massive time suck for the teacher or (c), being arbitrarily imposed on them with no basis in evidence, then it’s worth a discussion. However, I do come back to the leaving speech of an AHT, who reminded us that, once we’re in the classroom and we’ve kicked the door shut, it’s just us and them and we can do what we need to (that sounds a lot more threatening in type…it was quite motivational and moving at the time). We make dozens of professional decisions every day about the best way to teach, and that is what we have been trained for.

To wit: using PowerPoint. I use Smartnotes because I hate ppt, and it has considerably lightened my workload in the long term because the starters, assessment scaffolds and key words are already there, saving me writing them up every time, and the writing I add to the slides in the lessons remains for me to refer back to in subsequent lessons. Don’t want to use PowerPoint (or equivalent)? Don’t. Do? Do. Want to tell me what I should do? Not advisable.

Similarly, learning styles. Adopted wildly out of context and clearly scarred some teachers for life, particularly if they’d had to reference them in lesson plans (see b above). I’ve read a lot about them. I never bought into the idea that lessons should match learning styles because I’ve never really been in the business of removing what I see as reasonable obstacles in learning: your university lecturer isn’t going to provide a role play for you so you’d better get used to all the styles, kind of thing. However, I did, and continue to, plan activities that speak to a variety of learning styles so that my classes get a good smorgasboard of different things. This is partly to help them work out what activities help them learn best, which I think is vital self-knowledge to have before any serious revision kicks in, and partly because I prefer wondrous variety.

Want to use learning styles? Do. Don’t want to? Don’t. Want to tell me what I should think, why I’m wrong? Really, really don’t.

The frustrating thing about seeing these debates play out over and over again is how trivial it all is. I know it doesn’t feel trivial to the (seemingly very aggrieved) people who have found themselves under attack for not doing things they didn’t agree with – I get that – but in the grand scheme of things, as a profession we have bigger fish to fry. I am tired of seeing teachers attacking other teachers, like there aren’t enough people out there attacking us already. I’d prefer it if we recognised that teaching well is the work of an entire career; picked up bits and pieces from each other that we liked without needing to comment on what we didn’t; and, above all, supported one another’s professional judgement about what is best in our own classrooms.



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4 Responses to Policing other people’s teaching

  1. The biggest issue here is over truth. Learning styles are not a teaching method, they are actually a lie. Somebody (actually in the case of VAK we know which charlatans were responsible) invented them and told people they were real. And the lies were passed on, often by people who teachers trusted. The criticism of learning styles is not about policing teaching methods, it’s about the belief that a credible profession cannot be indifferent to lies.

    • sallythorne says:

      Sorry I missed your comment until now.

      I can see that it’s important for us to tackle pedagogical lies. However, the way that this is often framed in online debate is not in these terms. There is a lot of derision thrown at people who choose to teach in a way that others – on both sides of the debate – disagree with and I think this is undermining the weeding out of the dodgy ‘gogy, because people just disengage with the debate wholesale. I think a credible profession should be able to carry out inclusive debate without mud-slinging and making people feel bad, but there are limited opportunities for this and the brevity of Twitter makes it even trickier.

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