Should Traditional Teachers Join the Revolution?

 

In my last post I expressed my reservations about the current state of traditionalist blogging and the clamour for a revolution among many of my contemporaries. Some subsequent exchanges about this topic have furthered my thinking and in light of these discussions this post asks should traditional teachers join the revolution?

My observation is that revolutionary traditionalists make the following arguments that justify a ‘call to arms’:

 

  • Progressive pedagogy is not effective
  • The educational establishment overwhelmingly favours progressive pedagogy
  • The educational establishment is organised and uses a range of methods to disseminate progressive pedagogy throughout the education system
  • The vast majority of teachers adhere to this progressive orthodoxy

 

In contrast to many revolutionary trads I view the educational establishment as a mix of vested interests (CEOs, consultants, gurus and bureaucrats) whose dysfunction is caused by a lack of coherence about pretty much everything. While I acknowledge the existence of innately progressive factions (e.g some Science subject associations) within the educational establishment I think it is unhelpful to portray the establishment as synoymous with ‘progressives’, ‘the Blob’ or conversely ‘Govians’ or ‘neotrads’. Ignoring the existence of entrenched groups that wield power over schools allows these groups to a) avoid criticism for the current state of affairs and b) define themselves as ‘anti-establishment’ and an alternative to, not part of, the status quo.

 

 

The only commonality I observe within the educational establishment is that its members operate at distance from teachers and the day to day goings on in schools. Prior to 2015 I might have agreed with the notion that progressives within the educational establishment were very effective at influencing teachers and schools through various conduits but my professional experience has changed: now there is no money which means no progressive consultants, Ofsted have crucially lost interest in pedagogy so far less attention is given to it by managers, only a few of my colleagues are exposed to any pedagogy via the educational press and even fewer are members of a subject association. Hardly anyone uses social media, which is broadly considered a waste of time, for professional development.

 

 

Progressivism would, of course, still cause difficulties for traditional teachers if one accepted the premise that progressivism is already orthodox within schools. However my experience is that very few of colleagues make pedagogical choices on the basis of ideology or efficacy, they do what they do to get through the day. Effectively each teacher presents a personal mishmash of entrenched pedagogical styles. It is immensely difficult to pursuade colleagues to break their particular pattern because the pattern is a coping strategy. Here in the South West some teacher training providers noticeably favour progressive pedagogy but, despite this training, I observe a short lived effect as NQTs quickly develop their own mishmash of teaching styles in order to cope with the demands of the job.

In summary my position is as follows:

  • Progressive pedagogy is not effective
  • The educational establishment has no coherent position on anything
  • Since 2015 reform and budget cuts have made it much harder for progressives within the educational establishment to disseminate their ideas to the teaching profession
  • The vast majority of teachers ignore both pedagogical ideology and efficacy, teaching methods are chosen on the basis of getting through the day without generating extra work or stress.

Should traditional teachers join the revolution?

Despite some differences I concur with revolutionary traditionals who consider the educational establishment to be damaging. However, the proposed revolution will not be a revolution when the only target is progressivism and not the educational establishment as a whole; that some traditionalists have actually embraced existing sections of the educational establishment that are keen on market based reform or command and control management is a cause for concern. Given that the majority of my earlier work criticises such groups I will be unequivocal about my opinions here: the reformers and the managers rose meteorically through the education system when the system actually endorsed progressivism and traditional teachers were hounded by Ofsted. Reformers and managers didn’t bang the drum for traditionalism then and only do so now because their methodology looks slightly more appealing with some token traditionalism sprinkled on top.

In conclusion if you’re the sort of traditionalist that thinks targets and compliance inspections aren’t going to benefit the traditionalist cause then avoid this revolution like the plague.

 

 


The Traditionalist Revolution: Apologia

When I started teaching in 2007 it wasn’t uncommon for teachers to be criticised by the then educational establishment for using traditional teaching methods. Teaching from the front was said to bore students causing them to switch off and not learn anything or inciting them to behave poorly in class. I’ve never bought into this reasoning and books like It’s your time you’re wasting by Frank Chalk or Andrew Old’s Scenes from the battleground blog provided reassurance to my younger self that other teachers felt the same way.

Inspired by Andrew, Winston Smith, Inspector Gadget and others I began to interact online anonymously describing my experiences and thoughts about the education system. Online I was free to blog and debate with those who weren’t used to being debated with about the cultural orthodoxy they sought to impose on teachers. This juxtaposed with day to day things like being asked to attend mentoring meetings with a behaviour consultant for following school policy on detentions; blogging was a form of catharsis.

The educational landscape has changed a lot since 2007. Blogging and online teacher activism has been an important driver for some really positive developments e.g Ofsted ceasing to grade individual lessons or advocate a particular pedagogy. Most of the traditional bloggers from a decade ago are no longer anonymous, some have published books, some have opened schools, some are quoted favourably by education ministers. Thanks to those ministers there is now less money available for schools which, in my experience, means less funding channelled towards progressive education consultants. My point is that traditionalism and it’s advocates are in the ascendancy.

I am older and hopefully wiser. Having learnt through personal experience and observation of some brilliant colleagues here are five principle bits of advice I’d offer to my younger self when entering the profession:

  • Never say, or imply, to anyone that you (or your school!) are better than your colleagues, doing so makes people think you are an arse. Most people don’t want anything to do with an arse.
  • There are no magic bullets in education. I’ve noticed that when someone (usually an arse) claims to have found a quick fix careful analysis of the facts reveals gaming, selection or unsustainable practice. Genuine school improvement takes years.
  • Some people are unreasonable and/or incredibly nasty. If you have to interact with them do so professionally and for no longer than absolutely necessary. Trying to change unreasonable or incredibly nasty people is a waste of your precious energy and time.
  • Teaching will not give your life meaning. I still struggle with this a lot, I am still easily provoked by certain individuals and I find it difficult to switch off compromising my relationships with the people who genuinely add meaning to life.
  • If you get into management don’t be a shit funnel.

It is with these five principles in mind that I turn to the burgeoning ‘traditional revolution’ led by some well known colleagues on social media. Most of what I’ve read contains some intriguing ideas and methods that, as a traditional teacher, ought to be of interest yet something grates and has done for some time. I’ve tried very hard to look beyond it but I find the majority of current, traditionalist blogging communicates ideas in a manner that is provocative, self-aggrandising and singularly unwilling to consider English schooling as a system comprised of many parts that all effect each other.

So in order to avoid betraying the principles of behaviour I’ve found most useful I will not be joining the ‘revolution’ or whatever it is my traditionalist contemporaries think they are doing. I very much doubt this will bother anyone, at worst I imagine this blog will be ‘one for a file’ or I’ll be labelled an ‘enemy of promise’ or ‘prog’ – if that is the case so be it.