Status for Teachers
Whom do we trust with our children?
In an emergency how willing would you be to leave a child of yours, a child of about eight shall we say, with a neighbour, someone you do not know particularly well and whom the child does not know? An adult perhaps about whom you know no wrong but with whom you have never had much of a conversation or a discussion? Someone perhaps whose views on politics and religion are unknown to you?
Like a well-known and trusted neighbour whose integrity, kindness and sense of purpose can be taken for granted. a teacher, is someone to whom we would willingly entrust a child of ours.
Teachers and parents
Somehow the teacher will have to decide what to teach and how to set about teaching it. This is what we expect them to do, building on their training, experience and knowledge of our child. For economic and other reasons teachers tend to work together in schools where sport and other activities become a possibility, as well as a greater variety of subjects to be taught. At the heart of any school there are teachers. They conduct lessons and extra-curricular activities and provide for the welfare of the children in their charge. From time to time, they give an account of their stewardship of children to the children’s parents.
Teaching, we should not forget, involves an extension of the trust that is presumed in regard to parents. Just as we uphold the right of adults to bring children into the world and to raise them as they see fit so we should include the right of teachers to reach an agreement with parents as to how their children should be educated. By extension, teachers take on some of the rights and responsibilities of the parents whose children they teach. Where, by default, parents consent to society acting on their behalf then the state may gain some rights and responsibilities in this matter. Here, of course, there is no guarantee of trust or an understanding between home and school.
Teachers – at the heart of a school
Schools we must remember are human institutions, established for that most important of human purposes, the raising and education of children. However, as schools become larger and more complex the need to manage them grows. This involves people concerned with recruiting, monitoring and supporting teachers, with feeding children, with maintaining the buildings and with responding to communications from government and other bodies. A glance at salary scales now might seem to suggest that the less you teach, the more you are paid. Yet it is teaching that is the core purpose of the institution.
If you no longer stand regularly in front of a class teaching children or leading them through an activity that is part of their curriculum, if you are no longer responsible for aspects of their teaching you have stepped away from your colleagues and your collective purpose. To a certain extent you have abdicated your share in the extended rights and expectations of parents and have become another functionary, dealing perhaps with non-human matters such as the ordering of materials or the maintenance of a web site. You are no longer a teacher, no longer contributing directly to the basic purpose of the school. You are an ancillary, no longer sharing the rights and responsibilities of parents.
You may become a finance manager, a site manager, a welfare manager, an inspector , an adviser, or simply an education officer, but you are no longer a teacher. You have joined another group with its own interests and ties, but not ties to parents and their children. Your significance to them lies in your subservient support for teachers.
Whom do parents trust?
It is likely that you will work with other people with similar functions, that you will form teams, groups that recognise their group’s interests which they will pursue, but you will be cut off from those essential ties to parents and families and the trust they give to those who involve themselves in the lives of children in the manner of teachers. This trust brings home the matter of the control and direction of schools. This trust, this willingness to support and protect the work of children’s teachers is to be found in various places. For example The International Baccalaureate has earned the trust of parents, schools and universities by whom it is supported and all of which derive their authority in these matters from parents. In this situation it can function free from untoward restraint and is thereby all the more readily relied upon.
Another trusted body is the public school, set up as a trust, the only purpose of which is the education of its pupils, not as part of a commercial enterprise or in pursuit of another body’s purposes. In this model it is automatically expected that, for teachers to do their work properly, parents must support them.
Who then should control schools?
The question then arises as to whether a professional body would raise the status of teachers and improve their effectiveness by sustaining and protecting the work of teachers and their independence, maintained by teachers with parents’ support. Like other professional bodies this would be born out of the members’ awareness of the need for openness and self-discipline on their part, aware of their need for professional self-determination on behalf of parents and their children. Part of this might well involve setting up their own inspection service, rather like the Independent Schools’ Inspection Service. This sees schools and teaching inspected by practicing teachers, not by former teachers imposed by the government, and which provides schools with opportunities to learn from one another, as well as drawing attention to weaknesses and shortcomings.
You may remember the state’s attempt to set up a body with which to exert control over teachers, from whose salaries it deducted compulsory “membership fees.” Amongst many workers such a heavy handed approach to industrial relations would have brought people out on strike. To the government’s probable relief teachers were constrained by two factors: a strike would have brought to a stand the national child-minding service and sufficient agreement between teachers of different political stripes would have been unlikely.
To recognise the needs of teachers as they set about their work parents should no longer be able to dump children in schools. Remember that the law does not require parents to send their children to school; it obliges them to ensure that their children receive an effective education. Many parents simply satisfy the law in this respect by sending their child to the nearest state school which is obliged to accept them if there are places available. There is no need for these parents to establish any kind of agreement or understanding with the teachers who take on their children. These teachers, of course, are also responsible for other people’s children, people who may well have engaged with them and have formed an understanding with them.
STEPS WE MIGHT TAKE
For teachers, a professional body responsible for selection, training, qualifications, inspection, openness – to protect children – and imposed on themselves as part of the trust imposed upon them by parents.
For schools – a) gross, per capita funding so they can decide what is required and obtain it. b) Prior agreement with parents, before accepting pupils. c) more parents on governing bodies, some appointed like jurors – so that parents will come to better appreciate the disciplines required by the educational enterprise and support it more effectively.
For parents a) greater expectations regarding support for schools and b) clearer responsibility for their children’s behaviour out of school and liability for anti-social and criminal harm caused by their children.