The next time a qualified, experienced, intelligent early childhood teacher tries to tell me they’re not able to share their knowledge with the profession and recommends that I seek out a recognised “expert”, I’m going to cry, Max Grarock writes.
I’m going to cry because I know that my profession is filled with committed and reflective practitioners who astound me with their deep thinking about the work they do. A large part of my professional life is the struggle to get those people to share this thinking and practice with others. What they do should be shared. Sharing makes our profession stronger.
I once sent an email to 20 early childhood teachers asking if they, or any practicing early childhood teachers that they knew, were skilled in working with children with additional needs. I was looking for someone to share their experience in balancing the competing demands of including the child, working with the family and completing the meetings and paperwork that is often required of funding bodies. I figured that the challenge of managing all these elements is best shared by someone who does it regularly. Someone who knows first hand the pressures of the current systems of funding and accreditation.
Three teachers replied to my email request with suggestions. One suggested a teacher working in the school system. One, a person in a management role overseeing a number of services. In the final suggestion I was given the details of a consultant who hadn’t taught in an ongoing role for more than a decade. Despite specifically asking for a practicing teacher, I wasn’t provided with one suggestion that met this criteria. Amongst the group of 20 teachers who received that email, there were at least four who could have shared their considerable skills with others.
This is not an uncommon experience for me. At the Teacher Learning Network (TLN), where I work, we try to use practicing classroom teachers to deliver the majority of our programs. This comes from our core belief: that teachers are the experts in teaching and should be involved in teaching one another. This belief has both political and practical ramifications.
It’s political because it suggests that the core knowledge of teaching and how to teach rests with teachers. This is knowledge owned and developed by the profession. Asserting that teachers are the experts in teaching is political because it suggests that universities are not the experts in teaching. It suggests that politicians are not the experts in teaching. It even suggests that bureaucrats and those whose role it is to assess services are not the experts in teaching.
Don’t get me wrong. Universities have an important role in shaping the work of teachers. They train the next generation, they research and disseminate optimal ways of educating young children and they attempt to codify what it is that makes teaching more powerful. But the nature of studying things in isolation means the complexity and emotional toil of teaching is difficult for them to fully comprehend. It’s also difficult for them to respond quickly to changes that face the reality of classroom teaching.