Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Learn to Love Theory to Find Joy in Your Practice

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Learn to Love Theory to Find Joy in Your Practice

Article excerpt

Why research could hold the safe words to free teachers from the shackles of malaise

We know that there is a teacher retention and recruitment crisis. Teachers are leaving schools and the number of people entering the profession is not enough for the roles we need to fill, either now or in the future. Can educational theory help the situation? You may laugh with incredulity, but it can.

I was recently teaching with a master's level group of students and teachers in secondary and primary schools. One teacher - who has been in a post for four years - said in passing that most of the time she feels that she is going around the classroom with a clipboard, assessing and grading her pupils. She didn't like it. It was not what she had signed up for.

Meanwhile, a school headteacher was quoted in a recent TES article ("Going, going, gone", Feature, 27 November 2015) saying, "Teachers are simply tired of the lack of support from society in general for the profession. Physical and verbal abuse are now the norm in most state schools, and it is a highly demoralising system within which to work without the resources and support."

As a teacher myself, I lament both of these situations. I feel sad for my son's teacher. Has the bone-marrow and life been sucked out of education in schools on account of the "practice, practice, practice" mantra?

Why theory matters

Govian believers in education calling for craft and graft at the chalkface, neophytes of tradition with a desire for the "core" things in life such as Latin or ancient Greek, and the strange-but-true backlash against supposed Marxism-peddling academics in universities all come together here. They will not understand this theory of mine: that theory for teachers matters. They don't have to live the teaching life, but we do, and we do self-care.

My theory is that the assessment protocols teachers have to deal with are mindless. Teachers now process figures for figures' sake. These do not serve them in their desire to be there for their students and be excellent, intelligent professionals. Figures suck interpersonal relationships out of schools.

Figures also make the school experience less interesting for teachers than it used to be. Teachers are falling prey to what we previously thought was the complaint of students: school has become boring, meaningless and unconnected to their lived lives.

Fortunately, I believe that there is a solution. It may not be a revolution against testing, but it might just help liven up the staffroom and intrigue teachers into new forms of self and professional development; engaging them in their own vocation, should that need dusting down. The answer to the teacher retention problem could, rather surprisingly, be theory.

Usually theory is seen as dry and uninteresting, devoid of any practical knowhow or common sense. But I would suggest that, contrary to this, theory is pretty damn hot. To prove this, I will showcase some ideas used in education studies that I think might just help teachers get out of bed tomorrow.

Theory can explain the problems that we currently have in teaching. An article from 2009 in the International Journal of Learning, "Education as Initiation to a 'Form of Life': conceptual investigation and education theory", by ZR Gasparatou, is a blast of relief.

The article discusses how, according to some, we live according to language games. When we speak we play a game of understanding about which we all (roughly speaking) know the rules. This creates a stable set of ideas amounting to "an existing everyday framework". This "can help explain how education works".

Why do we use a curriculum? Because we teach children what they need to know to live in the world. Why do we inculcate standards of behaviour? Because this is how people interact according to our understood framework. …

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