Gonna read 10 sonnets

A theme tends to emerge when there’s a plan to tidy the house with the family. I start a Twitter spat and the kids watch ‘just one more’ YouTube clip of LD shadow lady. By the end of the morning we’re all bleary eyed, the house looks like it’s been burgled and the dog is so desperate to go for a walk he’s got the lead in his mouth.

To my spat…

I saw a tweet advising teachers to read ten sonnets to improve their ‘mental schema’ before teaching a sonnet. 

I responded ‘don’t mean to be rude but isn’t this obvious?’ which invited some agreement from tweeters creating #statethebleedinobvious but more surprisingly to me a lot of people who I respect defending this tweet. ‘This does need saying’ I was told ‘new teachers don’t know this stuff, what if they studied English language?’. 

But this missed my point. I wasn’t saying teachers should know everything (polymaths are rare) my criticism was the assumption that teachers wouldn’t do this. I could teach a sonnet tomorrow but if I were asked to teach Henry V I’d need to polish up my knowledge as it’s been a while since I read it. The point is that I would do this because I’m a teacher and it’s my profession – it’s what teachers do.

To defend encouraging teachers to research a topic before teaching it seems so ‘bleedin obvious’ it’s bewildering. I’m not keen on medical comparisons but it seems to work here. A general practitioner cannot know about every ailment but if they’re unsure they would look it up or refer on to a specialist. Would it seem strange to ask a doctor to read up about athlete’s foot before prescribing talc? Yes it would; of course she would do that, it’s what doctors do.

Is this becoming an educational system of unbearable control creating learned helplessness? Having to control every little thing and then having prove that someone’s done it? (which is the next step; there are schools who expect teachers to hand in their lesson plans).

For teachers this seems to be, ‘read 10 sonnets then you can teach a sonnet’. Or, we’ve planned all your lessons and here’s a text book. You just need to deliver with those 10 sonnets I asked you to read.
In my mind, teaching isn’t like that. Yes, it might be useful for teachers to plan together and I’ve done that all my professional life but I then tweak it and make it my own. I have always gone to the teacher who knows the most about certain subjects if I’m stuck but I find out, ask and reflect as part of my planning and this is how professionals work: experienced or inexperienced ones.

The argument that you must tell them the obvious seems corrosive; that schools don’t give teachers time to develop their subject knowledge might be a valid concern but I can’t see how telling them to do it will help. if we take that level of autonomy away then we are no longer teachers. 

This belief system plays to the lowest common denominator. It is similar to how the ‘no excuses’ culture in schools feeds the narrative that chaos is ripping up our schools and unless we keep a micro managed behaviour system comprising silent corridors, blackened out windows and rows of compliant students who should not be heard only seen schools cannot function. It’s a deficit model driven by cynicism and a belief that children won’t behave without these structures in place. We are now taking a similar line with teachers; unless they are told to study they won’t. 

It is not a coincidence I place students and teachers together – we are not only infantilising our children with a level of suffocating control because we don’t believe that they can succeed without it, we are doing the same to our teachers. Teaching is not a profession if you have to tell an English teacher to read some sonnets before they teach one. It eradicates any autonomy they might have had and is deeply patronising. 

Footnote 

In the maelstrom of the Twitter spat I was sarcastic to Alex Quigley and upset him. I’m more concerned by this than anything else I’ve done on Twitter. Sorry Alex.

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