The experience of a day-long INSET should be enough for any empathic human teacher to recognise that we ask quite a lot of pupils by demanding their unswerving attention for prolonged amounts of time. These same teachers, myself among them, who get positively prissy when a child’s attention drifts window-wards or who are caught conversing discretely, can be found rocking in chairs, binge-eating, doodling and checking phones.
This isn’t a criticism of teacher behaviour. We are focusing on the tasks at hand, hearing the words, considering the thoughts, but we can’t do this for hours on end with a straight back, supporting nodding and relentless eye contact.
By rights we would all be on traffic lights, or adorned with demerits.
This isn’t an argument for jazzhands and high participation teaching and CPD – it is a learning space, not an episode of Noel’s House Party. This said, I do think we ought to consider whether we ourselves could exist, happily and productively, within the learning environments that we create.
One of the most interesting CPD sessions I attended was the sociologist Frank Furedi’s talk at ResearchED last year. Frank’s history of reading and the notion of literacy – and the anxieties, pathologisation and medicalisation attached to the inability to read – was fascinating in itself.
But what made it more alive for me was when the audience, consisting of caddish contrarians, research nerds, the Phonics-as-Divine-Emancipation lobby and those of a sociological bent, all started hacking chunks out of each other and their viewpoints. There was genuine passion and – I think – genuine dislike in the room, and Frank seemed to enjoy the scene in front of him, as if we the audience were unaware that we were embodying the same 500 years worth of standpoints and rehashing the same arguments he was writing about.
As a class teacher, if the learning steered itself like this, to something resembling West Side Story, teachers may be reaching for their panic buttons or showering their charges with demerits.
I ask out of curiosity just this; if this kind of raucous impassioned ‘learning as educated rage in a public square’ works for us, why can it not work for pupils? Do we presume they are not educated enough? If this is the case, we ought possibly to apply the same logic to CPD sessions dominated by opinionated teachers with a handful of half-remembered percentages in place of knowledge?
My main thought here is this. If a teacher or trainer demanded the same level of focus of me as I demand of my Year 3 maths group, I would really deeply resent them for it and would become demotivated by default.