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23rd December 2013 Blaming the Teachers

Author Paul Brennan – Stand2 Co-Director

Recent reports in the media suggest that British pupils are falling behind due to poor teaching and that Shanghai tops the league table of educational performance. With politicians on all sides blaming both the teaching profession and each other they may all be missing the point.

There is an obvious assumption that because pupils are not learning it is by definition the teachers fault. Whilst it may be the teachers job to teach we often lose sight of the fact that it is also the learners’ job to learn. The reason why teachers are doing so much better in some other countries may be less to do with the teachers shortcomings and more to do with factors outside their control. Children in Shanghai are unlikely to be more intelligent than those in the UK, they are however likely to be more focussed.

Some time ago we began work training conflict management to traffic enforcement officers in London. Before we began the training I received an e mail from the department informing me that I should expect a rough ride. A previous training provider had struggled because virtually all the staff being taught only spoke English as a second language and their overall educational standard was perceived to be quite low. As you may appreciate there was a certain degree of trepidation as I entered the classroom…I needn’t have worried. It was one of the easiest days training I have ever conducted. Why? Because the audience could relate to every single situation we discussed.

I thought working 20 years as a police officer had its moments but I was talking to people who were being threatened on a daily basis and who seemed quite blasé and amused by experiences such as being chased down the road by an angry man with a samurai sword or a motorist who was so enraged he began screaming and smashing up his own car in front of the enforcement officer.

The students that day may not have been particularly academic or overly articulate but neither were they stupid. They were however incredibly well motivated as they realised they were learning something which was relevant to them. I have no doubt that those enforcement officers learnt far more that day than some far better educated students I have taught who sometimes fail to see the relevance of the training to them and who  honestly believe that “it will never happen to them”. They may be right but when a moment of crisis does occur they will find that denial and false hope are poor substitutes for training and experience.

So before blaming the poor old teachers for all the woes in the education system, please remember that whilst teaching is certainly the responsibility of the teacher, learning is equally the responsibility of the student. It may be hard to find a good teacher…but it can also be hard to find a good pupil!