Author Archives: Liam Roberts

#PedagooFriday 15/11/13

Pedagoo and the Myth of the “Weak Teacher”

May I start by owning up to my lack of qualification as a teacher? Forgive my failing to meet membership criteria in order to share with you a thought I’ve had since attending the recent Pedagoo Sunshine in Gateshead.

Though not a teacher, my work, life and general interest is anchored securely to education. This morning I worked my way through the CV’s of a recently graduated (or imminently graduating) PGCE PE cohort for a school in Northumberland. After lunch I flirted with creativity in encouraging my daughters to complete their homework on the final day of the half term holidays. I’ve essentially been a single parent for the duration of this holiday as my wife has embarked upon her annual descent into GCSE marking purgatory (an exercise she asserts each year will be her last). My work as the Manager of an Education Recruitment Company in Newcastle sees me meeting each day with many teachers and representatives from the schools I work with. I regard this as the most rewarding part of my work. The opportunity to meet with and learn from so many different teachers means my day is seldom without interest. I’m also fortunate enough to spend a lot of time within classrooms, observing many different teaching and learning styles and seeing the, sometimes stark, changes in environment offered by individual schools no matter how close geographically they may be to their neighbours.

I’ve been prompted to offer up a post to this site by a niggling comment that was made last week by a Deputy Head Teacher from a school in which I had placed a Supply Teacher for the morning. The comment sat uneasy with me then, and has continued to prod at my mind to the point I wish to share. Upon discussing the ‘performance’ of the supply teacher in question, the DHT suggested that they shouldn’t return to the school on account of them being “a weak teacher”.

I’ve have known and worked with the teacher in question for roughly 18 months and have successfully placed them into more than 10 schools in short term bookings and consistently received very positive feedback. I know the teacher to be conscientious, reliable and comfortable with the ‘demands of the unknown’ for which supply teaching can be fraught. This teacher is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “weak” teacher, though after just 2 or 3 lessons in a new school, he achieved this status and subsequent label with relative ease.

It seems the discourse from our national news and press is increasingly of falling teaching standards, of bad teachers blighting our children’s futures and weak teachers being held to account for poor performance through performance related pay. It’s not for me to argue the validity, or invalidity, of such claims and viewpoints but I would suggest that it has been made increasingly accessible for a blame-society to be given a platform from which to point the finger at teachers. This spreads all too easily to staff-rooms and quick judgements are made on who is strong, who is weak and who is simply counting down the days to retirement.

My own belief is that no teacher is inherently weak. In its rawest form, to teach is simply to pass on knowledge and, to some extent, everybody I’ve ever met has the capacity to do this. The progression from this basic aptitude is the requirement to perform this passing of knowledge within a structure; a school, a curriculum, a time-frame. Furthermore, an increasingly apparent requirement for successful teaching is to perform this passing of knowledge under consistent pressure, through almost constant measurement. This is where it becomes difficult and leads to planning lessons with one eye on the active differentiation of 29 fourteen-year-olds and the other on the clock as midnight approaches.

Through my day job (I don’t have a night job), I’ve heard perceived poor performance from a teacher attributed to a large number of factors. Often “poor classroom management” is cited, though it seems obvious to me that the skills required for maximising learning in one classroom are far from being an obvious requirement in another. I’ve heard a teacher telling tales of woe because her class wouldn’t stop putting their hands up to ask questions when she needed to move on. In contrast, I’ve had a teacher call me during a morning break time to tell me he’d felt physically threatened and intimidated by the students in his first lesson.

Similarly, I’m aware of teachers with a degree of difficulty in socialising, or deemed to have poor people skills. Again, I would suggest that this can be environmental and though it sounds crude when discussing human beings, the analogy, ‘horses for courses’ is especially fitting when discussing the fact that some teachers simply don’t fit in some schools but positively prosper in others.

I would concede that there should be little concession made for those teachers lacking in sufficient subject knowledge or those lacking in the basic professionalism required when working with our children. I would however argue that, with the exception of a small minority, a ‘weak’ teacher is simply one who has found themselves in the wrong school, or wrong department, or has dipped in motivation, or is under particular pressure, or feels undervalued, or isn’t being stretched by the leadership team, or…you get the picture.

My belief is that it comes down to motivation and motivation is far from self-sustaining. This, I believe, is where Pedagoo, as a movement, is at its most potent. When, at Pedagoo Sunshine, I had the privilege to sit amongst inspirational teachers, being inspired and inspiring others, it occurred to me that for some, the negativity and pressure around teaching as a career can be all-consuming, but Pedagoo puts the teacher, and the art of teaching, back in the picture. It shifts the focus from the negativity and reminds those who are party to it of the brilliance of what teachers do each day. It is motivation. Perhaps there are no weak teachers, just those who have yet to discover Pedagoo!

I’ve interviewed hundreds of teachers over the last few years and each of these interviews has followed a similar structure and line of questioning to maintain a level of consistency. In the last month however, my script has changed and no interviewee leaves the office without being asked, “have you heard of Pedagoo?”

Liam Roberts