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Newness vs. Sameness

The Gargantuan Tasks Asked of Teachers

Teachers are faced with an impossible task, teach the curriculum and fit everything in but at the same time shape outspoken and independent individuals. Charlotte Marshall explores this paradox.

silenced Charlotte Marshall

Each teacher is faced with the gargantuan task of preparing the next generation; but they are doing it blindfolded. What exactly are teachers preparing students for? Teachers don’t know what the workforce will need, we don’t know what the problems will be, teachers don’t have the answers because the questions haven’t been asked yet. Teachers are to complete that impossible task under difficult circumstances, without the resources, with everybody seemingly waiting to blame them for something. Blamed for anything – from the bad manners of a generation to a lack of empathy and as far as a low cultural capital. It’s relentless. 

Gemma Corby (2019) quite rightly said that “Being a compliant drone is not an asset in today’s world.” Rather we need brave, confident, outspoken youngsters to take the next step of social change; can they just wait until they have finished in our classrooms though? Right now, I need the ‘perfect’ student, the well-behaved student, the dutiful and respectful student because there is too much content to get through. Be brave, be different, be inspiring, just don’t do it yet. The candidates most desirable are the ones that can think outside of the box, those that have skills to approach tasks in inventive ways but can we assume that those skills will be developed in a classroom setting that asks for a standardised set of behaviour from each person. Sit quietly, wait to be called upon, speak concisely and clearly. That’s all wonderful but it doesn’t breed original thinking. Teachers are to prepare the minds of today for the work of tomorrow whilst upholding the values of yesterday. Can we really have it all? 

Worse still teachers are often the products of the system they work in and not by their own doing. Teachers are required to be a cocktail of contradictions; behave impeccably whilst being creative, produce excellent outcomes whilst taking risks, role model tolerance whilst challenging prejudice. As a teacher, I want to raise warriors prepared to fight and defend their rights but I often feel as though I put students on standby so that we can just finish this last bit of the curriculum. For the sake of classroom management, for the benefit of clarity, for the sake of order please be passive. For the sake of change, for the sake of the community, for the sake of social progress please be rebellious. Is it any wonder that people leave the profession – the job feels too difficult. 

Why is it that we are encouraging newness of thinking but modelling sameness in our classrooms? All students quietly annotating a core text, asking appropriate questions and making detailed notes sounds idyllic. It would be easy to manage, easy to show progress and I would be sure to get the label of ‘outstanding’, a nice pat on the back and the recognition of all of my peers. Is that what it is about? It assumes that the ‘easy’ experence in the classroom is the most important one. It assumes that the quiet assimilation of knowledge is best practice. What we actually need is a little bit of chaos, especially if we hope to complete the gargantuan. 

To best prepare our students, we need them to go back to their four-year-old selves and ask ‘why’. Repetitively. Annoyingly. Exasperatingly. Why are we studying this book? Why do I need this theory? Why am I to be quiet? The more they ask ‘why’ the closer they get to the critical consciousness coined by Freire. The more they will understand the processes they are a part of and the more they will find the reasons that something doesn’t work, the more prepared they will be for the unknown.

Perhaps we can follow suit too. Why is this paperwork necessary? Why do I need another CPD session on ‘aims’? Why do I fill up so much of my time on admin? This is not to be contradictory or to refuse to work, it is to be better prepared and thus better prepare those that follow. The answers to the ‘why’ questions don’t have to incite rebellion. The rebellion is in the asking. 

Reading List:
Gemma Corby Tes No 5382 (27/12/19) Six Toxic Messages We Are Sending out to Students pg. 10

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The author

Charlotte is an A Level lecturer in an FE college specialising in English Literature and Sociology. Charlotte started her career in education as a Communication Support Worker for deaf and hard of hearing learners giving her an invaluable appreciation for the work of educators in a variety of subjects both vocational and academic. In 2012 she qualified with a GDTLLS and began as a GCSE tutor for students who hadn’t achieved their ‘C’ grade in compulsory education and were wanting to attain the certificate. Her timetable filled up from there taking on more classes and courses as her tenure increased. Charlotte writes for her own weekly blog on her experiences in the classroom with a growing international audience. She has been a guest speaker for Advanced Practitioner CPD events, lead internal CPD events and delivered her own CPD events externally.

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