With the GCSE and A level results published in the past month, there have been a number of columns asking questions of the UK education system. The word is -- with more and lengthier exams, increased content, and tougher marking, we will be spending more time than ever working to improve league table positions.
Whilst it is true that teachers and school leaders need to be accountable for the work done in the classroom, the sheer amount of work needed to get kids to pass tougher exams is arguably not only bad for teachers’ mental health but students’ mental health too. It also requires a highly professional, methodical approach to teaching. Some have compared it to being akin to corporate practices.
Methodical teaching, to be, or not to be?
Professionalism in the classroom is important. It’s one of the most essential parts of teaching. But has the drive towards focusing on teaching solely for exam results taken away some of the fun from teaching, and students’ learning experience?
For some in the industry, the art of teaching has become too methodical, robotic and task-based. For others, it’s exactly where it should be at. There obviously should be room for both within the profession.
Some may ask -- what’s the problem with more methodical teaching? The world around us is increasingly built, controlled and influenced by data, and analytical thought. Yearly targets exist in almost every other profession across the globe. Why should teaching be any different?
The main counterargument is that teaching, as a profession, is not the same as banking, marketing or accountancy. Every year a new classroom, every year new abilities, so every year requires new approaches to teaching. It is in its very essence flexible and requires huge amounts of creativity. Even when teaching STEM-focused subjects like engineering and mathematics.
To expect consistent results, with such different ability levels each year, is a difficult task. Yes, there should be a degree of accountability. And we should obviously work towards consistent improvement. However, the way schools are measured can sometimes restrict teachers from teaching topics that they are genuinely passionate about or aren’t on the curriculum. With such consistent pressure, most teachers need to teach their subjects in such a way that exam results don’t slip.
But what if it is these passions that ultimately drive better exam results?
After all, if teachers are passionate about a topic not on the curriculum, a student is far more likely to reciprocate and engage with the subject. And subsequently, the love of a subject will allow them to engage with the stuff that IS on the curriculum.
For this to happen, perhaps we do need more maverick teachers?
What makes a maverick teacher?
Think back to your experience of school. Who are the teachers you remember most fondly? For most, it will be those who truly inspire. Not those who stick to the same routine every day. If we as teachers are expected to follow the same procedure -- starter, powerpoint, takeaways -- is there room for creativity?
This is where maverick teaching and maverick teachers can potentially break the mould. By accepting alternative ways of teaching, and new and exciting topics, we could inspire the next generation of writers, mathematicians, coders and teachers!
Maverick teaching is closely linked to autonomy. The most successful education system in the world -- Finland -- is a key advocate of allowing teachers the power to control the things they teach.
To find out more about the education system in Finland, read our article.
In the UK, though there is less flexibility than Finland -- we do have to follow a set curriculum -- there are still ways in which teachers can and sometimes do break the mould.
This is often the case when it comes to passion projects. Beat poetry might not be on the curriculum but it could be relevant to the more contemporary poetry that is. Though a teacher would be straying from what is expected, the students may engage more with it because it is a topic loved by them and their teacher. By forming a strong bond to the subject -- in this case English literature -- they can start to engage with Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Duffy.
Not only could this potentially create more engaged students which would, in turn, lead to improved exam results, it could help foster the next generation of writers. A student who starts to love a subject in school is far more likely to continue that development into college, university and beyond.
Though this example is based on a scenario for an arts subject, the same principle applies to every subject we teach. And it is maverick teachers who are willing, and actively want to change the standardised model of teaching who could potentially solve skills shortages across the UK.
As teachers, we are acutely aware of the shortages within our own profession. And who knows, that single maverick teacher that engages their students on a deep level could be the very person who inspires their kids to go on to become the next generation of maverick teachers.
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