Life at the Chalkface Soon Saps the Teacher's Enthusiasm; Dennis Coulson Shares His Thoughts and Experiences of Modern Education and the Difficulties He Experiences

By Coulson, Dennis | The Birmingham Post (England), June 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

Life at the Chalkface Soon Saps the Teacher's Enthusiasm; Dennis Coulson Shares His Thoughts and Experiences of Modern Education and the Difficulties He Experiences


Coulson, Dennis, The Birmingham Post (England)


Afew years ago local authorities were shedding teachers, surprised perhaps how keen so many were to go. Now there is a shortage, and the Government is hoping to lure young graduates back into the classroom. But many have parents who are teachers, and the se young people, alive to reality, are warning their friends and contemporaries.

A recent survey listed their objections to career teaching. Low pay and untold hours of marking and preparation put them of but top of the list was classroom indiscipline. For years tutors, advisers and inspectors had peddled the notion that 'old-fashion ed' classroom organisation should be abandoned for a more 'progressive' setting.

Traditionally children of broadly similar ability sit at individual desks and work on their own. They do not wander around the classroom without the teacher's permission, and if they wish to speak or need the teacher's help, they raise their hand. So the classroom is quiet and orderly, the teacher in complete control.

'Progressives' deplore this regime as repressive and stifling. In their world the children, generally of mixed ability, sit together round little tables. They 'interact,' ie chatter. The teacher moves from table to table, monitoring the work - or lack of it - of individual groups and pupils.

Of course neither pattern exists in this pure form, but together they point the contrast. Traditional teaching methods seek to inculcate, 'progressive' techniques to evoke. Yet whatever the merits of the latter, they are undeniably harder to practise bec ause the rules have subtly changed.

At the outset more children are co-operative and welehaved, awed by novelty. But learning requires both capacity and will, if either is missing, success will be limited. Because money is tight, some children are consciously misplaced. Unable to cope, the y pester and disrupt, playing to the gallery. Others join in. And unless the teacher is at all times on high alert, control can slip and the situation rapidly degenerate into chaos.

To meet this problem, today's teacher is expected to provide a never-ending stream of original ideas, games and gimmicks to entertain and indirectly instruct. Every lesson must be new and exciting, seizing the children's interest and making them want to learn. For, says the theory, if they are interested, they will respond and apply themselves.

Outstandingly the traditional classroom promoted individual effort. But for many at the little tables 'working together' simply means copying from one another. For a slow or lazy child the table of friends is a haven, the lesson a social event.

Of course learning should generate curiosity and fulfilment. But what happens when children are kept artificially in a permanent lather of excitement? Can any teacher sustain the momentum day in, day out? And will this perpetual funfair not pall after a while for pupil and teacher? The more able, for instance, seek not amusement, but guidance and approval.

Admittedly some teachers enjoy the constant challenge and thrive, but they are few. Most find their predicament nerve-racking and dispiriting, a mission impossible. …

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