Old dogs and new tricks

These teachers are students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education Programme in Bangalore. They are totally committed to the improvement of teaching and learning in their classroom. And furthermore they have certainly taught this old dog a few new tricks!

These teachers are students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education Programme in Bangalore. They are totally committed to the improvement of teaching and learning in their classrooms. And furthermore they have certainly taught this old dog a few new tricks!

I had what I would regard as a somewhat bizarre conversation with a teacher yesterday. This discussion took place in the car park at the university where I chanced upon this young woman, who I recognised as a teacher in a local school that I visited recently. In order to make polite conversation I enquired after her school and asked why she was visiting the university. Apparently she had just left a meeting related to teacher training and school placements and was now on her way home. Simply in jest I said to her “I thought perhaps you had come to sign up for the MA programme,” but I was then somewhat taken aback by her response. “I have been teaching for twelve years, what possible benefit would the MA course have for me?” I must have looked a little stunned, so she added (just for good measure), “I’m sure there are plenty of poor teachers out there who would benefit from a bit of extra training, but I’m not one of them.”

I must confess that I was initially speechless (not something I experience often), but eventually managed to splutter some ill-conceived response about even the best teachers always being prepared to consider new ideas, develop their thinking and inquire about their own professional practice. However, by then she was getting into her car and assuring me that she had all the learning she needed to do her job effectively.

Now I don’t know this teacher very well. I do know the head of the school where she works, who has previously mentioned that she is an excellent practitioner with the potential to move on to a headship of her own. I have no reason whatever to doubt that this may well be the case. I am none the less perturbed by the thought that any teacher might honestly believe that they have gained all the learning they need. Is this over confidence or arrogance I wonder? In my experience the best teachers have always been those who are hungry for more knowledge, keen to reflect upon and challenge their own practice, and exercised about how they can continue to move their own professional understanding forward. That has always seemed to me to be the mark of a true professional. But maybe it is me that is out of touch and perhaps the truth is that teaching is much easier than I always thought, or maybe it has simply become a mechanical operation, which once the basic skills have been acquired never needs to be modified.

At present my colleagues in Bangalore are busy recruiting students for a new cohort to begin studies on our MA programme in September. I am aware that the decision to join this course demands a great deal of thought on behalf of busy teachers. The additional demands upon their time through attendance on a course is inevitably an important factor in their decision about whether to join, or not. What will the tutors be like? Will I cope with the assessed tasks? Will the other students know more than me? Will I be able to apply this new learning in my clasroom? I am sure all of these questions and more go through their mind. I am equally sure from what I hear from those who join the course that they find it challenging but fun. They report that it has an impact on their classroom practice and develops their confidence as teachers.

Fortunately there are still colleagues working in education who see the need to challenge their own professionalism, to keep learning and inquiring about the vocation that they love. This is always heartening and encouraging to those of us who try to support our colleagues in their professional development.

I am sure that Philip, one of my recent PhD students will not object to me telling you of his experience. When he applied to become a PhD student, after many years of teaching and working as an educational psychologist, Philip suggested to me that he would probably not be deemed suitable for study at this level because of his age (let’s just say that his sixtieth birthday was a while back). As someone who advocates inclusion I was certainly not going to turn him away. Last week, after three years hard full time study he had his final viva voce examination and will soon graduate with the title Doctor before his name. Now here is someone who truly appreciates the need to continue to challenge his own learning, and I have no doubt that he will also put this new learning to good effect.

If you are hovering around a decision to take a course for your professional development, go ahead and take the plunge. I’m sure your pupils will benefit and hopefully it will also be fun.