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Work and prosperity
6 August 2012

Those who can ought to teach

These days, our politicians are often accused of having no experience of the ‘real world’, as if working in a think tank or advising a minister is to book a one-way ticket to fairyland.

Is this a fair criticism?

Admittedly, the CVs of Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband aren’t exactly black with the grime of quotidian existence, but could one say much different for MPs recruited from the banking sector, academia or most branches of the law?

Also, isn’t there something to be said for the good old-fashioned principle of learning on the job? It’s a point made by Anthony Seldon for the Spectator, but in relation to the teaching profession rather than politics.

The context is a move by the Government to allow academy schools to recruit teachers without formal teaching qualifications. Needless to say, the teaching unions are up in arms – however, Mr Seldon, the headmaster of a highly successful school, has no problem with the idea at all: 

  • "At Wellington College, which has just received an ‘outstanding’ rating for all aspects of its teaching and learning, I pay absolutely no heed to whether someone has a teaching qualification or not. What I do look at is whether someone has the human qualities to make a great teacher. They need energy, passion for their subjects and for teaching, a readiness to learn, an altruistic nature, integrity and intelligence. Some eccentricity definitely helps, though is not a necessity." 

But how will teachers learn how to teach if not at teacher training college? Mr Seldon’s response is that the real learning starts once college is over: 

  • "The very worst aspect of teacher training in universities was the notion that learning finished when you went into a school. The very best teachers, in stark contrast, are the ones who are learning all their careers. The greatest teachers are the ones who were as committed to learning, as vulnerable and as absorbed by their students, in their final year of teaching as in their first. A lack of willingness to learn is the enemy of great teaching. A teacher who is not growing and learning, above all from interactions from other students as well as teachers, is a teacher who is dead." 

Surely, though, teaching is a profession and, as such, requires some form of professional qualification. Again, Mr Seldon begs to differ: 

  • "Teaching is different… to medicine, as well as to law and accountancy. It is more akin to parenting. The good teacher will reflect on their own experience of good and bad teaching, and model themselves on the former while avoiding the latter. A new generation of teachers is about to be born." 

One has to ask what the teaching unions are worried about. If they’re right about the necessity of formal qualifications – especially those provided by the kind of establishment that has done so much to shape the educational ethos of the last few decades – then any school that dispenses with such wisdom will soon be found out, thus vindicating the union line.

Then again, is being proved right what they're really afraid of?


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