I am a passionate believer in the teaching profession.
Teachers do not simply impart information and knowledge; teaching is not merely about systems, facts, figures and certainly does not exist to promote insularity and lack of social interaction.
If any of these elements were true, then my argument would fall down immediately. It is because the teaching profession is the complete antithesis to all of these ideas, that my argument is strong and compelling.
So where do I stand as an educator, as a leader in education? The centre point of my passion is a philosophy that I instil into my staff, into the school and into every school I support. It is the child – first and foremost.
The question I ask every day is what does the child need and what is the best way to ensure that every one of that child’s needs are met? After all, a young person only gets one chance at a good education.
Our goal as teachers fundamentally is to encourage independent thought, independent enquiry and ultimately independent learning. It has been argued that new means of learning will be the way to facilitate this in the future. I say resoundingly no.
Aristotle said «man is a political animal» – central to that idea was mankind’s innate desire to interact with one another and learn from one another, socialise with one another. Some may say that social media does this – but does it really?
Put at its simplest, if future models of learning means encouraging young people to spend prolonged periods in front of faceless computer screens, exposed to largely unregulated material in an inherently unsafe environment, then that is clearly not the way forward.
Education is much more complex than that. It is about the trust and bond between a teacher and young person (and parents) that creates the environment where learning can occur and grow. Virtual learning simply cannot do that. I would argue that in a world now where young people are retreating more and more into virtual unreality, the teaching profession is more important than it ever was. It is teaching that keeps it real – teaching that keeps young people alive. In short, teachers and the profession will never die.
In almost 40 years as an educator, I cannot think of one single occasion when someone has stopped me to recall fondly about an inspirational and influential piece of computer software. And yet I get letters from former students eulogising over a teacher who changed the direction of their lives and without whom they would not be in the position they are today. That is the result of trust, about a relationship between the teacher and the child.
Now if all these elements could be packaged into a new technology – a new learning model then I would hold my hands up now and concede the debate. It can’t. And that is the essence of my argument.
Teachers don’t simply teach concepts and skills. Any new technology can do that.
Good teachers inspire our young people to be lifelong learners, creating a culture of independent enquiry with their enthusiasm and passion. I know this because I see it every day. Good teachers have the skills to know exactly how to get the best out of each and every young person in their care:
No ‘new models of learning’ can ever compromise or threaten the essence of what a teacher is, always has been and always will be.
Teachers want the best for their young people and use new technologies in their lessons. But the delivery of this new technology and learning models is just as important – if not more important than the technology itself. I know it is.
That said, technology can only do so much. It can be transient and can become obsolete very quickly. What is a constant though, is the teacher in the classroom who across the world at this very moment and tomorrow morning will be putting the needs of their young people first, finding the best fit to ensure that everyone achieves more than they ever dreamed possible.
Transcript from the ‘Is teaching obsolete?’ debate at Salford University on 4 June. Organised by Going Global, the British Council’s conference for leaders of higher education and the Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education, as part of Qatar UK 2013 year of culture. The video of the speech and the whole debate is available here.
Pamela Wright, OBE, is executive headteacher at Wade Deacon High School.