Why not relax by engaging in some professional to-and-froing with your twitter brethren about teaching? Sounds like fun, don’t it? And quite often it is. Sometimes – and by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘often’ and by ‘often’ I mean ‘pretty much all the time’ – you could be forgiven for thinking that Twitter is on the blink as your timeline appears to be nothing more than a rehashing of comments you remember reading last holiday, and the holiday before that, and the holiday before that.
Fear not technophobes, your shiny new phone isn’t on the blink. It’s just that us teachers can’t move on from a single subject. For some reason our tiny minds are fixated with discussing the merits and failings of two different approaches to teaching. These approaches, or depending who you follow, theories / philosophies / beliefs / ideologies / disciplines / concepts / dogma / ways of life / only thing that matters / reason to walk across a crowded room in order to punch someone in the face, currently represent – if twitter is to be believed – the only thing that matters in education.
Forget the dire financial situation schools are currently in. Forget the collapse of social care around the country. Forget the increase in social, emotional and mental health problems that we are seeing in every area of our system. Forget the systematic dismantling of local authorities in favour of selective education. Forget the disconnect between key stages in relation to what is ‘expected’ of our pupils and students. Forget the ever-changing goal posts informing us of how better things need to be before we’ve had time to adjust to the last change. Forget the high-stakes system of results and Ofsted that cause panic and frustration when things are perceived to have gone wrong. Forget the pressures all of the above place on leaders, teachers, support staff and children.
None of that really matters.
What really matters is whether you’re a Trad or a Prog.
You should, according to some, know which one you are as knowing which one you are will improve your teaching. (As long you’re the right ‘one’ of course, if not then you’re just wasting everyone’s time.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start bashing either side or try to stop the debate. I think people thinking stuff is fine. People passionately believing in something is great. Evidence based research is, not exactly a laugh a minute, but can be interesting. Putting across your beliefs with the kind of feverish zeal normally reserved for religious preachers on dodgy cable-tv channels can be mildly disturbing but is seldom damaging. Watching debates on Twitter escalate can be a marvellous way to spend the time whilst you’re waiting for your morning egg to poach.
I love it. I don’t care that much about the trad/prog debate but I enjoy reading about it and sometimes I learn stuff. Only today I read Get Kids Cultured by the only man in the 21st century who can make a toga look both sophisticated and seductive: Martin Robinson. It was a right good read. Not only did I learn what neo-progressivism means but I also learnt that neo-progressives are a bunch of cynical swines obsessed with global capitalisation. It was very interesting and made me feel quietly smug that I too, like Martin, value ‘great art, literature…the humanities…a continual dialogue, a great cultural education’. I know nothing else about the chap but these few hundred words of his made sense and represent what I have tried to promote during my teaching career.
The important word in that last sentence is ‘tried’. Sometimes it’s hard to pull it all off because, well, you know that earlier paragraph where every sentence started with ‘Forget the…’? It’s hard to deliver that richness in education because of all that stuff. All that stuff gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes what you face in the classroom has to be dealt with first. And this isn’t wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal child-centred clap-trap. It’s the reality of being a teacher and working with small but complicated human beings.
I did a teeny-tiny twitter poll recently about what teachers thought about the whole prog/trad thing. 71% of those that responded said they didn’t know what it all meant and didn’t really care either. Since that poll it appears to have been discussed at length on twitter. Opinions were mixed. It was a very badly executed and puerile poll. The divisive nature of such a poll indicates how low some educators are prepared to go to sully professional debate. These 71% are a disgrace to the profession. The fact that these teachers are disengaged with the most important educational issue of our time could indicate that those talking about it must be very dull. Maybe it’s not that important after all. The fact that some people don’t think it’s important proves that it must be important. I could go on…but don’t worry, I won’t.
The most Didau of all the Davids, David Didau, referenced the poll in his recent blog The Great Education Debate saying that it was ‘fascinating’ (thank you, David) and that the outcome could indicate that if teachers ‘aren’t clear about what’s at stake then it’s perhaps no wonder that they’re not willing to ante up.’ He then makes four points about the subject that are very wise and logical. I agree with his sentiments that sometimes teachers disengage with this debate because it can become ‘boringly repetitive’ and ‘ill tempered’.
For me though, another reason why many teachers do not know/engage/care about the prog vs trad saga is that they are too busy with those complicated external factors that threaten to derail children’s learning. There are times, on Twitter, when I feel that these factors are brushed aside as an inconvenience. Dismissed as a symptom of the damage done by those uncaring traditionalists or pampering progressives. It is, of course, always someone else’s fault that children have problems (unless you are a spectacularly bad or unprofessional teacher) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t your job to try and help. That may mean that your preferred teaching approach needs to be suspended as you take the time to create an environment that enables these children to become receptive to your teaching. This is neither a traditionalist nor a progressive approach. It is simply responsible teaching and what most of us do daily. It is the reason, I suspect, that 71% don’t know about or care about the trad/prog debate. They are too busy reflecting in the moment and adapting as necessary to get the job done as best they can. They are also probably too knackered to think that deeply about their philosophical approach to teaching. That isn’t an appalling refusal to engage with educational debate, it’s work-life balance.
I hope those who do manage to find time to ponder the great philosophical quandaries of education continue to share their thoughts on blogs for others to read. I hope discussions continue on Twitter and that they remain animated without being offensive. I hope teachers will always feel able to try out new approaches and share what works and learn from what doesn’t. I also hope that the academic discussions on the merits and failings of traditionalism and progressivism know their place and don’t interfere with teachers’ professional freedoms in the real world. I also hope that Edu-Twitter doesn’t completely disappear up its own backside believing itself to be an executive authority rather than a minority of people thinking stuff. Well, I can hope, can’t I?
See you at the next Twitter poll.