Friday, 22 February 2013

So What Can We Teach?

A couple of stories (along with comments from some of the louder and more obnoxious members of the Edublogosphere) have popped up over the past few days. Most relevant to my own teaching is on the subject of SRE lessons, which will now include aspects of respect and intolerance of violence against women. Relevant to Paul is the introduction of an A-level in Creative Writing.

Where these two seemingly divergent subjects meet is in the overwhelming criticism of both SRE and creative writing, namely that teachers are woefully underqualified to teach both of them. Apparently our relationships are train-wrecks by and large, and we shouldn't be giving advice to students on their relationships. And the only people who will be able to teach Creative Writing will be those who have been successful writers in their own right. I'll address this one first.

"Only successful authors can teach Creative Writing effectively"

Fortunately, Paul is a successful writer and editor and would be able to rock that A-level teaching. But do all teachers of creative subjects need to be accomplished in that field? The actual creation is not the majority of the qualification - in Art I spent a lot of time learning ratios, perspective, techniques, history of various movements. In Music (I didn't do any qualifications save for my AB exams) there was a formula for composing music, which I was supposed to demonstrate in my Grade V theory exam. I would imagine in Creative Writing there are similar theories and formulae that can be used to help students write creatively.

But surely this is extended to the supposedly non-creative subjects. Do I need to be a successful biologist in order to teach A-level Biology? I most certainly am not. I'm not even a biologist, though I have a masters in Biosystematics. I'm a geologist and I have one published paper. I don't have a PhD - I failed to do that twice. No, I need a good understanding of the subject matter and an ability to pass that understanding to my students. I can do that without a PhD, long publication record, grant applications and the other characteristics of successful scientists.

"Teachers are the last people who should be advising on relationships. Look at us!"

My marriage is not perfect. Many people close to us know we've had some trials and tribulations. My family's story would be rejected by sitcom writers for being too outrageous and unbelievable. But despite all that (or maybe because?) I still deal one-to-one with a large number of students with boyfriend/girlfriend problems, family issues and so on. I'm now certified to give out condoms to students under our borough's C-Card scheme. In Biology classes I discuss IVF, contraception, STIs, abortion and drug use - sometimes it's even relevant to the specification. Why shouldn't I take the opportunity to discuss relationships with the students too?

There have been some concerns that certain supposedly controversial issues such as homosexuality would be difficult to teach about in SRE if one's religious beliefs state that it's a sin. Well, the same colleagues who would have issues also have serious problems with evolution and an old Earth, but no one has suggested (apart from me) that they shouldn't be teaching Biology... If these colleagues can teach a topic they think is inaccurate and wrong, then they can jolly well teach about the full range of human relationships.

Given a framework, regardless of our experience in the world of relationships, we can raise discussion points. We can ask the right questions. We can get students to reflect on their own relationships and those they see around them. I'm not a role model - I have tattoos, blue hair and am contemplating a nose ring (hey, it's MY midlife crisis, right?). I drink and occasionally smoke. I eat poorly. I still have to teach students about the importance of healthy eating and the dangers of lung cancer. No one has suggested that, because I'm overweight, I shouldn't be teaching students about a balanced diet. So why should private relationship woes prevent a teacher from teaching about positive relationships and respect for each other?

Right. Time for caffeine. I don't usually write before my first cup of the day. It probably shows.

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