Just Teach

Once upon a time, teachers didn’t really plan for lessons, they just went in and taught.

There were no teaching resources with copious teacher notes, step-by-step guidance and bullet-pointed directions.

These teachers weren’t rogue pedagogues, they were the norm.

They had a rough idea what they wanted to teach and they went ahead and did it. They had a considerably high level of influence over curriculum content, teaching style, pupil organisation, selection of resources etc) and were largely free-range.

Now compare that to a modern teacher.

Some teachers are literally lost without a teaching map and lesson plan to follow. It is their crutch and lifeline.

Most teaching materials are now so well-planned that you don’t have to be qualified to teach from them – it’s all there in not so glorious detail!

A whole industry has grown around providing teachers with ‘kitchen sink’ resources so they only have to follow the Teacher Guide and ‘do’ the curriculum.

This of course de-skills teachers because there is very little for them to think through for themselves. Unlike their ‘organic’ counterparts of yesteryear (pre-National Curriculum), teachers now have grown reliant and dependent on something to follow.

Sure, they will adapt according to the conditions and tweak the resources to their context (or so they say!) but let’s be honest, in reality, you won’t find many teachers stepping outside the confines of a commercially produced guide.

Why? It’s easier. If someone else has done all the work then why waste time reinventing the wheel?

Workload is bad enough without planning every lesson for yourself. Detailed lesson planning is just not needed.

But organic teachers are surfacing again and rebelling.

They don’t want to follow word for word what some celebrity teacher says or regurgitate the material of a publisher who doesn’t know their students.

Expert teachers don’t need to plan in painful detail, they teach following their instincts and based on who is before them. They “constantly have to make spontaneous and more or less planned choices based on input from pupils” (Espeland et al, 2021).

They have a sequence of lessons in mind but wouldn’t dream of writing individual lesson plans.

Fully resourced schemes of work and all-encompassing Teacher Guides are actually strait-jackets that allow no real movement despite the “fully adaptable” proclamations of the publisher who say “you could teach in all kinds of ways within the structure.”

Some teachers are to afraid to step out of the structure because it would mean having to adapt and think on their feet.

They don’t offer a scaffold, they act like battery-hen farms.

Free-range teachers don’t need all this gunk because they know how to teach without it – they improvise. They have the knowledge and understanding to bring about learning and upgrade the learning experience. They also have the confidence.

As Thomas et al (2022) note,

Improvisational teaching then is about a classroom teacher drawing on their situational awareness of students in real-time, so that they can engage pedagogic possibilities for a class by weaving together both existing pedagogical content knowledge and their knowledge of the students in classrooms.

Teaching without published manuals and files thick with notes is not for the faint-hearted but it is ‘real’ teaching.

‘Kitchen sink’ teachers are obsessed with having the kitchen so well-prepared and ‘mise un place’ that they can’t go off-menu.

Yet real teaching is mostly off-menu.

Tim Oates might very well say that high quality resources “are not antithetical to high quality pedagogy – they are supportive of sensitive and effective approaches to high attainment, high equity and high enjoyment of learning” but in actual fact they do the opposite.

This is not a factory.

The issue is whether teaching resources deskill teachers – they do. It is little wonder that newly qualified teachers rely on published resources because many lack the knowledge and experience needed to teach confidently. These resources serve as safety nets but they also serve as ‘Biblical’ texts that are religiously followed.

Free-range teachers don’t teach ‘off the cuff’ – they are prepared because they have read around the subject to know their material.

They are not regimented, they are spontaneous and are allowed to be creative. But they are still regulated.

Teaching resources can be dipped into but they certainly shouldn’t be the be all and end all.

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