What do doctors do?
They specialise in certain fields, they engage in research. They become knowledgeable in diagnosing, treating, and monitoring. The public know this, and respect the profession.
Doctors engage in public health campaigns to educate the public. They appear on TV shows to give expert opinions. They challenge unhealthy lifestyles. They feel no shame in engaging with industry and academia for the purpose of research.
Doctors hold themselves to high standards. Their professional bodies examine best-practice and disseminate it. They measure success rates and survival rates – not just while the patients are in hospital but they are often monitored for years after. If there is a failure and a patient dies, there is a post-mortem, and the failure is thoroughly analysed and lessons (usually) learned.
So what do the public think us teachers do? My entirely anecdotal responses:
- We have long holidays (first thing people mention to me).
- We teach kids stuff (i.e. we write stuff on the board and kids copy it down and ‘learn’ it)
- We tell off naughty kids (they say “I just don’t know how you cope with all those kids, I think I’d want to kill ’em”)
- We spend evenings marking work.
- We’re quite sweet really (“I think it’s great what you do, you’re so dedicated – you’d have to be really.”)
- We moan about the government a lot, and about our workload, and about the kids… and their parents (“Going on strike again are you? Holidays not long enough eh? Hah!”)
- We’re dedicated, some people think we’re probably fairly clever but a bit mad
- A lot of people remember teachers from their school days – a couple of teachers they loved, and lots of teachers they hated.
- We are cogs in a ‘failing system’. The public have totally bought the tabloid line that education is in crisis.
- Our views are entirely represented by our vocal unions who are seen (often) “as fairly introverted and self-serving” (a great quote from Nick Wells, @NSMWells)
People do, of course, say lots of other positive things about teachers, but I do think this represents a good slice of public opinion. Add on top of that the general feeling that kids are rioting and exams are totally devalued and you have a toxic mix.
How did we let this happen?
It’s all too easy to point the finger of blame – the government, the unions, maybe even parents. I’m certainly not an expert in the history of education (although I’d love to hear informed opinions on how we got to this point). However, I’d like to suggest that we should take a long, hard look at the medical profession, learn some lessons, and start doing something about it.
Here are some suggestions for starters.
- Found (by ourselves, not government) a new association of education professionals. This would be an entirely non-union and non-government body whose job is to represent the interests of quality education for all. It should aim to become the dominant and expert voice, as the British Medical Association (and AMA, etc.) has become in medicine. It would include representatives from all teaching unions, education professional associations, but mostly be made up from fantastic, expert teaching professionals and researchers.
- Begin public information campaigns about how we learn, and how we can help our children become more successful adults. Engage with the media to create and run more newspaper columns, tv shows, blogs, etc. which entertain and educate the public about learning.
- Invest properly in long-term outcomes research to find out which schools are creating confident, competent, successful adults, and which are churning out exam statistics.
- Forge strong links with business and universities and create centres of expertise in new understanding of teaching and learning, and new technologies.
- Engage with all the professional bodies to start creating new ways of teaching more effectively that utilise our brightest and best teachers, and acknowledge and reward expertise and advancement, rather than time spent at the ‘chalk face’. Perhaps we could allow, for example, Junior Teachers, Chartered Teachers, Consultant Teachers?
You may not agree with all the ideas, and I agree that much of this would be resisted by teacher unions, but I cannot help but think that this is the correct way forward.
I’d very much welcome your thoughts, opinions, criticism, etc.