The Australian school year has barely begun and already attention has been diverted into debates over the national curriculum and teaching degrees. What is interesting is that these both seem to be debates over general vs specific.
Should a national curriculum be teaching specific knowledge and should teaching degrees be generalist? Certainly the ability to communicate clearly, express ideas imaginatively and problem solve are critical skills in today’s world but that’s like saying that a surgeon only requires these skills to operate. We know that isn’t true.
I don’t believe the issues raised by Minister Pyne and Vice Chancellor Spence are the issues that we should be debating. Whether it’s the curriculum or a teaching degree, it has to be a both/and proposition. Education is after all, the interplay between theory and practice, reflection and action, specific and general, academic and vocational.
I believe teachers need to be generalists and specialists just as they need to have both deep pedagogical knowledge and deep content knowledge. Learning is the ability to bring the parts together to form a coherent whole.
For me this year the real action should be around two key areas. Firstly what is a relevant curriculum for today’s learners? The very word curriculum conjures up images of content and mastery. Perhaps we need to think more about learning frameworks which sees content as an addition to the learning process, an aid rather than an end point.
Secondly, what is the role of a teacher in today’s world? I spent sometime with teachers in one of our primary schools on their first “official” day back. It was interesting to note that they had been back at work for some time. We discussed many things but dwelt a little on the role of the teacher.
We talked about the need to let go of this model of teachers as transmitters of knowledge who have their work day and professional working life highly regimented. Can we give over more control of teachers’ professional lives to teachers. They organise their time not by bells but by collaboration so the responsibilty for learning shifts from the teacher to the student and so on. Will this happen? It will only when the shortsighted interventions and futile debates cease. The task of reshaping education is the responsibility we share.
This year, our system leaders are using John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers as their professional reading. Hattie writes: “Expert teachers and experienced teachers do not differ in the amount of knowledge that they have about curriculum matters or knowledge about teaching strategies – but expert teachers do differ in how they organise and use this content knowledge.”
As Hattie says, what really matters is that teachers know their impact on student learning.