Wednesday, 9 March 2011

What does Jamie's dream school tell us about teaching?

Jamie Oliver's recent venture into 'reforming' 'troubled' young people (there are a couple of value-laden phrases) is extremely revealing - but not for the reasons Jamie and his teachers thought it might be.

What it actually tells us is how important it is to be a good teacher, to be pedagogically aware, and to be able to get your point over in a calm, measured, respectful manner that in its turn elicits respect. And to listen rather than talk all the time. It doesn't matter how much you know about something once you're in the classroom - it matters whether you're a good teacher. This can to some extent be trained into you, though your personality type probably plays a role as well.

What you can't do is shout at young people from a position of strenth, power and knowledge. They'll just yawn and look at their mobiles - or fight back in just the same way you've bullied them, as actual teachers have pointed out.

The most awful example of this was David Starkey's turn as the school's History teacher. You squirm as he shouts at them. You hide behind your hands as he patronises them. You get angry when he's nasty to them, dismissing one poor kid because of his weight. What sort of actual teacher would do that? It's an object lesson in how not to do it - and a warning of thinking that intellectual ability or an academic post must mean you're good at teaching. It, er, appears not...

Even some of the teachers who gave the kids some respect, and had thought about some of those elements of a successful lesson - think of Simon Callow taking his pupils to The Globe theatre to evoke his passion for Shakepseare- fell flat. That was a start, though some of his other ranting was a bit of a drawback. And at least he showed some passion for the children's views themselves. But he admitted that he'd failed to reach many of his aims, a self-awareness that would have stood him in good stead were he an actual Drama teacher.

The most worrying element in all this is that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, buys into some of this stuff - witness his reforms to the PGCE qualification, designed to cut down so-called 'theory' and get students 'into the classroom'. Recall his fondness for lining kids up in lines, getting them into blazers and teaching them Latin. Wonder at his enormous enthusiasm for schemes that get 'top graduates' into teaching - a good idea within bounds that he now wants to push and push.

Well, all I can say is: good luck with that.

1 comment:

  1. McKinsey did a study in 2007 that found this "obvious" truth. The real question is how to get from here, where teaching is seen as a low status career to a place where teaching is a highly valued profession that people compete to get into.