More or less live from Conference...
Some key questions that have already developed this morning:
- What is the definition of a teacher?
- Where is the coffee?
- Can I have some coffee now, please?
I am a first-timer here, in a room with people who have been Conference delegates longer than I have been alive! That's a fairly humbling thought.
As a result, seeing a friendly face or two has been really reassuring. I've already mentioned the terrific Laura Chisholm, who I am sure has far-reaching aspirations for the Union. I can also now highlight Kristian Jones, who spoke compellingly about the definition of a teacher. Nearly immediately, the TES Twitter feed picked up on his statement that "72% of teachers in his department are unqualified." It's a disappointing but unsurprising statistic, in an education environment that is trying to "keep costs down" by replacing teachers with unqualified teachers, who are presumably less expensive.
I think it's deplorable that this practise is so ubiquitous, but - even worse - that it would seem parents generally aren't aware when their students are being taught by someone without a teaching qualification.
There has, though, been some comparisons between teachers and other professionals, like surgeons and pilots. Okay, granted, teaching requires a specialised set of skills, which take training to hone and perfect, as does surgery or aeronautics. I just don't think it's a fair comparison, and it's as unfair to surgeons and pilots as it is to teachers.
What I'd rather we did was highlight exactly those skills that make qualified teachers better for their job.
A qualified teacher has been trained in methodology and pedagogy. As one delegate (whose name I shall try to confirm) put it, a qualified teacher knows to ask open, developmental questions. They can deftly guide students towards epiphanies - towards learning! - because they have been given the knowledge of just how to turn a phrase, to adjust a question, or two develop a new analogy.
A qualified teacher stays current. The very best teachers read current research, develop new practice, and make contributions to the profession and to academia.
A qualified teacher has specialist subject knowledge, alongside specialist teaching knowledge. They know how to get a room of students riled up about unfair conditions and taxes and lead their very own revolt, before revealing that they were actually re-enacting a (less gruesome) Peasants' Revolt. They can see the science in the every day, or know that there are nearly unlimited ways to apply mathematics skills to everyday problem solving!
There has been a lot of bossing around the media at this conference (a strategy which in my experience nearly always fails). But, if I could point out anything about the merits of qualified teachers versus unqualified (in education) adults in the classroom, it would be to highlight their real skills, not simply point out that we aren't treated the same as other professionals.