– Sandy Kerr, Future Nation Schools Lead Teacher: Languages

Sandy Kerr is a seasoned educator with over 30 years of teaching experience. She holds a BA degree and two diplomas in education. Sandy also writes, reviews and edits English Language and Literature textbooks for Macmillan, Vivlia, Pearson and Via Afrika.

A 19th century surgeon would be lost in a modern day surgery. He (definitely not she) would be out of place, and would not understand the technology or the processes in the new environment. In his surgery, he gave his patients alcohol rather than anaesthetics to control their pain, and he saw no need to clean his theatre, his equipment or his clothes before operating. In fact, his patient was more likely to die from his ministrations than to survive the experience. He would not know about cryosurgery – the process of freezing and killing abnormal cells, that high-frequency sound waves can be used in brain and inner ear operations, or that surgery can be successfully performed on babies in the womb. He would be lost in a modern day surgery.

A 19th century teacher, however, would not be lost: desks are still in rows in many classrooms across our country, blackboards are sometimes green, but they still dominate, and the teacher is still the source of all information. This despite the explosion of information. This despite the fact that the students in those classrooms must live and work and be productive and successful in the world that has moved away from the ethos of the early classrooms.

The futurist Thomas Frey suggested in 2014 that there were 162 future jobs. He predicted that we have to prepare for future jobs in industries that currently do not exist. Your child or grandchild could be an Inflectionist: someone who can pinpoint the optimal intersection of time, place and information for change to occur; or a Fear Containment Manager, a Quantified Self Assessment Auditor, a Guardian of Privacy or a Super Baby Designer. Among the skills that will be valuable in the future are those mastered by Transitionists: people helping to make transition work; Optimisers: those who have the skill and persistence to tweak variables until they produce better results, or Backlashers: those who provide responses when new technology brings its detractors. The list makes fascinating and intriguing reading. It is also sobering to think that our education system has not kept up with what the new world will need.

I am not about to teacher-bash! Teaching is among the noblest professions in the world. There are many of us who have memories of a special teacher who was able to connect with us and who encouraged us to aim to be better, and to achieve what was for us, the unachievable. Sadly, not all of us have these memories, and for the majority of people, many of their teachers are easily forgotten.

Thomas Gradgrind, the teacher in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times, sets out his thinking about teaching at the beginning of the novel:

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else…’ He describes himself as a ‘cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts’, and is ready to ‘blow them, [his students] clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge.’ He sees his students as ‘little pitchers’ that he intends filling to the brim with facts. Hard Times was written in 1854, and the description makes the reader uncomfortable at its brutailty and unfeeling coldness.

There is no reason for any teacher today to be using equipment, methodologies and thinking of days gone by. In truth, we have to create different learning spaces for the students in front of us: we must create –learning-teaching relationships where the power relationships are different, where students have voice and choice in the process of their learning, and where we move towards creating students who are able to take up the challenges that will face them, and their environments. We need to create learning environments that would baffle a 19th century teacher, where she (or he) would definitely be out of place.

Be gone with rows of desks, and blackboards, and the notion that the teacher is the keeper of the Gate of Knowledge and Skills! In their place let the students design how and where they will learn under the benevolent guidance of a teacher who is quite in control of the process in a thoughtful, supportive, flexible role; who has spent time collaborating with colleagues designing learning activities that will delight, engage and stimulate his/her students, and who is excited if this process generates more questions than answers.

The naysayers will be listing all the reasons why this is not possible: time, resources, curricula, examinations, parental disapproval and official disapproval. I dispute all of these objections! Learning and teaching can look different! And if we care enough about those in our learning spaces, we need to make this happen. We owe it to the Last Milers, 3Dimensionalists and the Locationists seated in front of us.

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