According to Chomsky, 40% of Americans believe global warming isn’t important since Jesus will return prior to 2050 and solve everything.
If unchecked, mankind can be prone to believing things that, while mainstream, are also nonsense. So it is with teachers.
The profession, affected by the ‘former’ insistence of the standards police on a correct way and by the bludgeoningly stupid desire for the fake epithet ‘outstanding’, has reduced teaching to a situation where mainstream practice has grown into a shape as anthropologically weird as the system housing it.
This creates a problem for the variety of teacher who, recognising that if the intellectual heft of the profession is represented by the quality of thought in published teaching materials, realises that adherence to the lowering yardstick of the compulsory norm will not benefit their students and has been forced to grow their own style.
Teachers who construct their own way as a move away from strictures that lead us towards average often endure the diminishing label of ‘maverick’: a base signifier employed by the orthodox to reduce dissenting voices to comedy. But where the mainstream is a collection of weak slogans, what is the teacher who recognises this to do?
All that jazz
The answer is that the ground on which you should fight is where orthodox teaching involves pointless work that exists for its own sake. Classroom layout affects pedagogy; available technology affects pedagogy; and the mainstream adoption of the compulsory slide show has meant teachers coming into the classroom for their earliest rumbles are gifted the false impression that a lesson for which they’ve not produced a PowerPoint (that becomes, and makes explicit, the plan of the lesson) is a proxy for a lack of professionalism.
If we might use a tenuous musical analogy to understand certain polar views, there’s the view that sees teaching as a constructed sonata – teacher as conductor: for them, it is tightly defined, minutely structured and every instrument plays its role at a prescribed point.
The alternative sees teaching as less a science than as free form, partially improvised jazz – teacher as jazz drummer: it is ever changing, goes off on tangents, is technically and rhythmically complex and has an intrinsic chaos that must be embraced if, in sublime moments, singers and song are to merge.
The conductor wants everyone to do what they’re told, so the score is delivered as the composer intended; the jazz drummer wants to lock down an ever-shifting groove from which other players may launch into their own extemporisations.
The conductor wants to lead so the world becomes ordered in a certain way; the jazz drummer knows the world is chaos, is prepared to work with that understanding and tries to sculpt that chaos into beautiful shapes.
The jazz drummer sees himself as the key driver, but also as part of the band; the conductor is above the players.
Take a stand
The compulsory slide show is a lowering of expectations pedagogically, as it can ignore the fact that the composer is often a third rate hack and that the lessons in the composition are not worth learning.
Maverick teachers take a stand for the content of their lessons being worthy of study; maverick teachers engage with the form in its full complexity, and maverick teachers do not do things just because that is they way everyone does them or because such practice might make lessons appear organised to a 25-year-old on their first learning walk.
That way lies the slow death of everything precious; that way lies the banality of the basic offer; and that way lies education as function.
How should you teach, dear colleague? The way that your heart and best thoughts lead you.
By 2050 none of this will matter of course as Jesus, when he returns, will de-invent PowerPoint, reveal the starter to be a waste of time, and tell everyone that differentiation was a prankster gag to rank alongside the dinosaur bones his dad planted to mess with our belief in him.
Phil Beadle is a teacher, and the author of several books including Rules for Mavericks: A manifesto for dissident creatives (Crown House).
He is also a maverick.
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