I ask in all seriousness: what attributes would you expect of the ideal teacher? I have today undertaken some training, and this was one of the questions we were asked. The answers – adaptability, fairness, flexibility, empathy, sense of humour, were all as you might expect. Where my fellow educators and I parted company was over my suggestion that “passion for the subject” should be included. Likewise, they dismissed knowledge – what you needed to teach at primary level, they said, was nothing that you could not mug up the night before.
Actually, I am scandalised by this. I am, though, but a lowly Behaviour Support Assistant, so what do I know? What I do know is that independent schools consistently perform better than state schools, and that all independent prep schools teach separate subjects from Key Stage 2 (eight years) onwards.
From September, I shall be off to learn how to become a teacher – at primary level, with a language specialism. I don’t think that I shall be able to “mug up” my language the night before I teach my class. One of the teachers today suggested that he was compelled to teach RE, but he did not have any sort of passion for the subject; indeed would not have considered it at all were it not a requirement of the national curriculum. To this I say that perhaps he is not, then, the most inspirational teacher of this subject that his pupils (not students – and particularly not students in primary schools) have encountered.
I am passionate about modern languages, even though I do not have a degree in the subject, and may not be the wisest exponent of the subject that my pupils have ever met. What I do offer them, though, is both passion and a belief that languages are worth learning. This is why I am off to France tomorrow: to hone my skills.
There is much to be said about both language teaching and learning in modern Britain, and I may well return to this in another blog. I know, though, that for many primary teachers, MFL (Modern Foreign Languages) is simply another subject to be shoehorned into an already overloaded curriculum. For me, it allows for the teaching of just about anything in a different way. You can have fun with languages: you can play games and read picture books, and while you are at it, you will be improving your pupils’ literacy and opening their minds to a new way of thinking, both literally and figuratively.
But I still think that a degree of sheer knowledge is required before you can hope to impart what you know to expectant children. It is all very well to be told that “all teachers are graduates, so you take as read that level of expertise”: I have worked with people with reputable degrees from sound universities who proved themselves incapable of stringing together a sentence, and who were surprised when I pointed out that a subject and finite verb were not optional extras, but a sine qua non of writing a sentence.
Everyone has an idea of what education should be, and what makes a good teacher: we have all been to school and we remember, for better or worse, our own schooldays. I think fondly of many of my teachers, and of what made them memorable. Dedication to their profession was one thing: knowledge and passion for their subject was another. If the teacher is not sure of what he is teaching, what hope for his hapless pupils?