A fortnight back, I took my Year 13s to a study day on the life of Geoffrey Chaucer. During one of the lectures, the speaker highlighted the crest of the family that ruled the area where ‘The Merchant’s Tale’ was set. She highlighted that the Visconti family crest – which is a snake consuming a child – was a pretty clear way of the rulers of Lombardy saying: ‘we’re bad guys, don’t mess with us.’
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, there’s an enjoyable parallel here to a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch where two SS Officers debate why they have Skulls as their insignia and the Allies have Lions and Stars. (I imagine those fighting for House Bolton in Series 6 of Game of Thrones may have had a same concern …)
The upshot for the Visconti (if not for Mitchell and Webb’s SS officers who run away when they realise the truth) was that, sometimes, there is merit in being the baddest guy in the room.
And that leads me to the current state of EduTwitter Wars …
I’ve never been able to work out if I’m a Prog or Trad. (And I know that this act of equivocation is enough to have me executed – or at least unfollowed/blocked – in some circles). I’ve had some classes that I have, almost exclusively, lectured for the whole two year A Level course and some where I’ve needed to roll out my whole box of ‘engagement’ tricks to get them through. Both approaches were fine and, in my professional judgement – as the only professional in the room at the time making that judgement – I did the right thing. I don’t think I am ‘cruel and unfeeling’ when I punish those who do not meet my high standards, nor am I an ‘enemy of progress’ when we digress into a discussion of the weekend’s football results. I see having a good relationship with my pupils as crucial to my success as a teacher, but I’m not there to coddle them or be their friend. An A is not ‘good enough’ for a student capable of an A*, but – my word – there’s equal pleasure in that hard-won C. I don’t think we should lock up parents who take their children out of school for a fortnight at Euro Disney – I can read a pricing list! -, but I’d really rather they didn’t do it if it was possible to avoid.
But, yet, the battle lines are drawn, with each side sure they are in the right. Is there a best way to teach? I’m not sure. I certainly think, though, there is a best way for each student. I’m a professional and I think it’s my job to work out what ‘way’ unlocks their potential. It seems to me somewhat self-defeating to tie one hand behind my back because of a ‘philosophy’ – but I don’t think, returning to my original thesis, that this makes anyone who does so into a ‘baddy’. I’ve never been told to teach in a particular way – by SLT, Ofsted or even in training. Perhaps I’ve been lucky across the schools in which I have worked? It certainly sounds that there are colleagues out there labouring under intolerable interference in their day-to-day existence and I’d encourage anyone working under these conditions to seek out new pastures.
Your classroom, your rules.
But, by the same token, if it’s not your classroom (school, sector, section), perhaps it’s not your place to comment?
We all, unless we are the Visconti, like to think that we are the White Knights slaying the Dragons. Progs like to depict all Trads as right-wing, heartless, unfeeling automatons who seek to punish individuality. Trads tend to suggest all Progs wish to oversee classrooms of disorderly anarchy where all teacher authority is abdicated.
It’s nice to argue with monsters.
It makes us feel great. Like we’re fighting the good fight for our scrappy insurgency of a philosophy: we’re always the Rebel Alliance, in our own minds, never the Empire.
I don’t think, though, that there are colleagues out there who want to ruin the lives of their charges – from either side. Perhaps a good starting point would be to acknowledge difference, and the professionalism of those that make choices, and not ascribe malicious motives?
Because none of us are the baddies.
If we were, we’d do something easier for a living 😉