It goes without saying that we become teachers out of a deep desire to effect the development of our students, to play a role in their path to maturity, knowledge and understanding. But in addition to shaping the future citizens of our society there are other good reasons for selecting teaching as a profession. In the long term one of the most interesting aspects of the profession is the ever changing nature of the challenges each new batch of students bring and with this the constant demands on your creativity, knowledge and problem solving skills as you strive to meet the needs of every student.
Teaching is never dull and unlike many professions it provides an ongoing intellectual and creative challenge. Teaching is often more like performance art in which we combine our ideas, our beliefs and values with resources designed for the task into a highly choreographed dance that results in our audience leaving the room a little more able than when they entered. Visit any primary school classroom and you see the evidence of this performance on the walls and hanging from the ceilings and if you look closely you will see the creative spirit of the teacher and students.
A concerning trend in education is placing this creativity at risk and as a profession we must decide if this is good or bad for our students. Education is big business and always has been but increasingly Big Business is seeing it as a potential market and this could change the landscape for teachers, schools and students.
As Education shifts from Text Books to online and blended learning has created a new market sector and the publishing houses and media conglomerates are likely to pounce. There is real potential here to develop teaching resources and programmes that fill the gap for schools looking to provide what is seen as a 21st Century Education. For a large media company with a stockpile of digital resources and a staff of developers and editors the potential of selling an App or Managed Learning Environment must be alluring. For schools adjusting to the demands of a new syllabus or common core standards the offer a tailored programme is also tempting especially if it is marketed as supporting the new objectives and outcomes.
Text books for a long time have been seen as the easy way out, the but of jokes about bad teaching practices in which the teacher input to a lesson is "Open your text to page 45 and answer the questions at the end of the chapter". Good teachers didn't do this even if they made use of texts. We picked pieces that supported our lessons, used a page here and there for independent practise or used illustrations to support our teaching. We were in charge of the process and wove the resources we had at our fingertips into our craft. Will this continue when programmes are crafted by large media houses who protect their intellectual property with Digital Right Management?
A continuing challenge faced by schools is how to implement new ideas that move their teachers forward and challenge the tried and trusted practices of the past. Resistance to change is real. One strategy schools have used is to buy into a programme that achieves the desired goal. One example of this is seen in an attempt to encourage the use of an integrated inquiry based approach to learning that included an awareness of individual learning styles. Key staff in the school undertook extensive research and all staff involved were provided with extensive support and PD. In the end it was considered easier to implement the Middle Years Programme as developed by the International Baccalaureate. Had the school done this it would have had an easy to follow programme with ready made resources for teachers to follow and less opportunity for resistance. In the end the project was disbanded.
The same pattern can be seen in other areas. In the realm of thinking skills and learner behaviours that promote success there are numerous paths a school can take. Bloom's Taxonomy, Dimensions of Learning, Habits of Mind, De Bono's Thinkers Hats, Gardner's Multiple Intelligences are all employed by schools to varying degrees to achieve the desired goal of supporting positive behaviours in their learners. As these are Open ideas researched and shared openly and collectively schools are free to implement them in ways they see fit. The varying models for implementing this are as diverse as the schools that use them. But there are those who see this as an area for commercial gain and thus in place of developing a programme to implement these behaviours it is possible to purchase a set of resources designed to do it for you and with this to buy into a system for teaching and learning a key set of skills. But will the results be as effective as homegrown solution, will the desired level of ownership be achieved and if not does having an integrated system provide sufficient benefits for this not to matter.
I am not saying that this is bad thing, only that it is different perhaps from the way schools and teachers have operated and that it is a change that is likely to accelerate. As education becomes increasingly commercial will lose something of the craft that went with the profession? Will we give up ownership for well polished and presented resources? In the end the question has to go back to 'what is best for our learners?' Do they learn more from a teacher who gives them access to the best resources or do they learn more from a teacher whose classroom is full of their spirit and soul?
By Nigel Coutts