THE TEACHER AS SCHOLAR-HAVE WE LOST THE PLOT?
Have we lost the idea of what a teacher is for?
Should they be more Sage on the Stage, than guide on the side?
One trend in education, gaining traction in the United States, if not here, is to encourage researcher teacher collaboration, viewing the teacher as a scholar in the classroom. Currently most research on education and teaching is based in universities. But in the past quite a lot of research was undertaken by schools, within schools, with teachers collaborating on projects and then using research to help inform classroom practice . In the 1920s and 1930s many of the researchers in education were in fact practising teachers at the chalk face. Educationalists are revisiting this model. What it means is getting back to the idea that a teacher is a scholar. Or at least should be .And that teacher training and professional development is informed by the understanding that a high level knowledge, in depth understanding and subject expertise are an absolutely crucial part and precondition of great teaching. This idea has been lost along the way.
The term “teacher scholar” seems to have come from Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate (1990). Boyer focused on US Colleges/Universities but his conclusion ‘We need scholars who not only skilfully explore the frontiers of knowledge, but also integrate ideas, connect thought to action, and inspire students’ has a clear resonance and relevance for schools. Scholarly teachers employ appropriate theories on student learning and pedagogy to their teaching and regularly assess their teaching effectiveness against research and revise accordingly. The teacher-scholar model seeks to bring researchers scholarship into their teaching and their teaching into their scholarship. The idea is that teacher-scholars actively engage students in connecting the life of the mind to the world in which they live through the exploration of scholarship harnessing research. It is about re-professionalising teachers and giving them more space. In this model, scholarship entails the development and application of knowledge that takes place both within and outside the classroom to promote student development and achievement. Teachers are not there simply to coach pupils on how to past tests, which ,arguably, is the fate of most modern day teachers. Teacher-scholars are educators who regularly link their subject matter and instructional strategies. What does the Teacher Scholar Philosophy mean in practical terms and what might it demand from teachers ? Here are some possible themes:
• Understanding current developments in their disciplines,
• Advancing the students real understanding of the discipline,
• Evaluating and analyzing their teaching practices,
• Having knowledge of discipline-specific pedagogical strategies,
• Applying effective strategies to facilitate learning of a diverse student population,
• Applying knowledge to the development of courses and the curriculum and,
• Using evidence-based assessment of teaching to improve their teaching strategies.
Joe Nutt, a teacher, scholar, and education consultant, writes on his blog ‘One of most covert and invidious shifts in educational practice I’ve observed over the years, has been the demise of the teacher as scholar. In his/her place we have the skilled pedagogue: a bland, culturally timid “practitioner” who relies on generic “skills” instead of knowledge, intellect and the thrill of actually engaging with other people’s minds.’ The Scholar Teacher model is antagonistic to the ‘Constructivist’ model. Constructivists hold that learning always builds upon knowledge that a student already knows. Most of their methods rely on some form of guided discovery where the teacher avoids most direct instruction and attempts to lead or guide the student through questions and activities to discover, discuss, appreciate, and verbalize the new knowledge. This presents the teacher as a guide rather than a Sage or scholar. It all goes back to that most basic of questions. What are schools actually for? You would have thought that we would have found a clear answer to that by now. However, the on-going and very politicised debates about school structures, social mobility, improved access, the curriculum, assessment, qualifications, creativity, resilience, innovation, teacher quality, professional development, performance measurement are all symptomatic of the overarching concerns we have that we still haven’t found a complete answer to this most basic of questions. Stakeholders are certainly not happy with what the education system is delivering and the Education Department remains one of the busiest in government, introducing reform after reform to address perceived weaknesses and challenges. And many teachers are not happy (look at the attrition rate after qualifying). They feel that they are simply agents delivering centrally prescribed strategies with little scope to bring scholarship and true learning into the classroom.
One of the newest think tanks to emerge in this country is the Education Foundation which, at its launch last year, asked a basic question-What is education for? It then launched a debate about what we want from our education system. Responses were predictably mixed but one common theme on which everyone seemed to agree was that we are not getting it right. If we want our schools to educate our children rather than to act as exam factories, with teachers simply rehearsing with pupils formulaic responses to questions, to satisfy the guidelines set by examiners maybe we should take a closer look at the teacher as scholar model. Many teachers feel that they are not respected as professionals and not given sufficient time and space to develop their skills. After all, sound scholarship and research should inform both policy and practice-ie what happens at the chalk face- in education.
The Enquiring Schools Programme in the UK aims to help school staff to facilitate their own research projects. This programme is informed by evidence that research based learning is the single most effective method of professional development.
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