Saturday, 28 July 2012

In the sandpit, not the chalkface

Today's educational outburst brought to you fresh from the disused sand and gravel pit outside Buckingham.

See here, as evidence: one crappy photo showing sediment deposited from glacier meltwater, containing stones from Northamptonshire and Scandinavia.

That is not my original research, you can guess. I learned it from a geologist. She taught me. Using herself and her practical teaching aid, pegged to a rockface.

I know it doesn't look very teachery. But I trust her. She knows what she's doing. Even though last month she fell off a cliff.

In fact, she is just the sort of wonderfully inspiring person I want my children to meet. Outgoing, adventurous, enquiring, a teller of tales for rocky marvels. She never fails to enthuse us with lumps of sand. They teach us the ages of the earth. Two minutes in, mouth open, face agog, Squirrel whispers, Amaaazing.

Then, when we pass our friendly geologist a rock we've found and ask about a tiny colour and crystal detail, she turns it over in her hand, and might say after a pause, 'hmm, good question! I don't know!'

I love her. The expert admits the limits of our knowledge; the bluffer never does. The bluffer passes hot air for authority and says, That's the way it is. The expert passes the rock back to Squirrel and says, That's why we need more geologists. To find out why.

So as for that news - more non-qualified teachers like my treasured geologist to be hired in schools - I have mixed responses.

Because Gove and his buddies are right - people obviously do not need qualified teacher status to communicate a love of a subject. Parents are first teachers, and we didn't need a certificate for that. Now who cares one jot whether the geologist inspiring us can wave a PGCE or a QTS?

We home educators, we use local knowledge, word of mouth and contacts to find these people who are passionate about what they do; who communicate their loves, interests, and curiosities; who engage us in thinking and make us imagine there's a place for us in their world.

To us, their certification is pointless. They are either the inspiring people we need, or they aren't.

So what's a teaching certificate for? It isn't a measure of an ability to enthuse, and it doesn't grade your talent to capture the imagination of a child.

A teaching certificate is a product of the system it supports; it says you have passed through a structured classroom route; you've been induced into the way of things; shown the mechanisms behind the scenes; seen how the institution works as it does. A teaching certificate assumes you fit into the way of the educational world; you have an interest now to do so. You're stamped with certified classroom management skills, you can fill in endless diagnostic report cards, and you've received tried and trusted techniques for crowd control. Your teaching certificate speaks first to the institution and then to the parents. It's a stamp of approval for a mass system, where the children really come last, but everyone says they come first.

But Gove et al. are fudging. How many passionate, dedicated and inspiring people in music, language, or gravel will give up a life of free-thinking pursuit for classrooms and admin? Brave souls are few and far between. Children are awkward. Schools are hard work. Free thinking is not an option. Creative spontaneity is not on the curriculum. Field trips are discouraged. Timetables are rigid. The management is suspicious. The paperwork onerous. The parents litigious.

For our passionate geologist, I wonder how she'd handle the routine of the school day, day after grinding day.

Well, we're fortunate. She's not at all inclined to take up teaching and lock herself in a classroom. She'd probably smile a happy smile and say, I think the sandpit is where I belong.

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