Teacher Voices and Those Who Silence Us

There certainly seems to have been an explosion in recent years in the number of teacher’s voices that are getting heard. Current teachers and those who have just left the classroom are finding time to write books based on their own thoughts, practice and conclusions from reading research. TES are increasingly publishing features from practicing teachers and have a slew of regular columnists who sit down to write with blackboard pen still staining their hands. The Chartered College of Teaching has its own journal taking submissions from teachers and movements such as ResearchEd and BrewED give platforms for teachers share their ideas with their peers, policy makers and the inspectorate alike. I think we can all agree that this is an amazing thing! Right?

Well, no. Sadly some people seem to be less happy about this than others. There have been a couple of seemingly vexatious freedom of information requests including ones sent to find out how the head of OFSTED chooses to spend her free time at conferences and how the Minster for Schools decides which blogs to read and share. This seems to be about nothing more than making it as awkward as possible for public figures to engage with teachers on the ground. Or at least, the wrong kind of teachers.

Before ResearchED’s national conference there were a number of people (few of them teachers) bemoaning that many of the speakers weren’t researchers but teachers who also write. Fancy that! Teachers who spend their time reading and writing about education being listened to by other teachers. More recently we have had this opinion piece from Dr Pam Jarvis published by BERA on The Edublogger, the School and the Academy in which she expresses her concern that:

Blogs based purely on the personal experiences and opinions of one person may be presented by some writers (and consumed by some readers) on the same basis as more in-depth, academic peer reviewed publications. This poses a growing risk, that writing in these very different genres may erroneously be accorded the same value in policymaking.

Jarvis (2019)

Speaking as a mere edublogger myself (and someone who has also gone through an academic peer review process a couple of times) I can tell you that everything I write is reviewed by my peers. Every post I write is reviewed by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of my peers who chew it over, question me directly, think about it in terms of their own experience and chose whether to accept or refuse its conclusions. Teachers and policy makers in school are not uninformed consumers of what they read, a change that has come about, I would suggest, in part through the widespread sharing of a greater range of voices on a greater range of topics. Few things are accepted in blind-faith and everything is contested. You only need to look at the comments under the most innocuous of articles on the TES Facebook page to see that.

I value and listen to teacher voices, read their books, articles and blogs, because they take what academics produce then recontextualise it as experts in lived classroom practice. Someone’s ideas coming from their original research in controlled conditions, or their carefully chosen peer-reviewed opinions, might be all very interesting but how does that look in the context of a real school with competing demands? That is what I want to know and that is where I will look to teachers to help inform me.

When I write or talk about teaching and learning I turn to what researchers and academics have written about the subject but then consider how it applies in my own classroom and how it might apply in the hundreds of other classrooms I have seen over the years. This does not make it less valuable than a piece in a peer-reviewed journal. It just makes it something different.

We need a partnership between academics and teachers; but it needs to be a partnership of equals. We can’t have that partnership whilst one side tries to silence the other and sneer at any platform they may have. Most of us teacher-writers are highly trained and experienced professionals and we deserve our voice. Listen up.

Teach Like Nobody’s Watching – a teacher eye view on teaching, is available now.

2 thoughts on “Teacher Voices and Those Who Silence Us

  1. Thank you. I am a retired teacher, in full time teaching for 32 years. I am only just beginning to find my voice thanks to Twitter, where I now discover like minded people. I write, but currently just to myself, about education – I still feel passionately about it and cannot quiet switch off from that which was my life for so long. I lack confidence to put all my thoughts out there, but only on Saturday I wrote that my experience should count for something. There is an amazing knowledge in experience, but the fact that I am not an academic or known researcher etc. holds me back from sharing my writing. In the last year of my career, my experience meant nothing, my opinion was no longer valued and I could not stay where I no longer felt comfortable. However, I am a witness to the implementation of many new methods of teaching, new processes, the success and downfall of these and, even now, there are few who would say everything is working well in the profession. I fully believe in collaboration, bringing many minds together to solve a problem, it’s time to do that. Twitter and blogs are facilitating teachers and researchers to share their thoughts and learn from each other. It is time to treat a teacher as a Professional – highly regarded and respected by all, value their opinions, seek their opinions and never assume, because you have the title of Headteacher, Principal, CEO, Governor, Trustee, OFSTED Inspector, Minister for Education, Professor of Education, you know absolutely better than they do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen to this, Mark!
    For too long, academics have been detached from the actual art of teaching. This has led to a huge disconnect between academic researchers and actual practice; and has only led to issues with the pace and accuracy of take up of truly wonderful research. Take Back and Wiliam’s work on formative assessment from the late 90’s… had there been the amazing dissection of professional practice you get today on Twitter and teacher blogs, ResearchEd and TeachMeet events, then the bastardisation of their inspired work into the Frankenstein model for working with sub-levels and in-lesson progress testing may have been thwarted.
    What we need is a whole different paradigm: one where academics and Practitioner Researchers come together and work as one – and then tell their tale to the wider audience, who then actively work on their suggestions in their own school context, and re-shape it for how it works for them.

    Liked by 1 person

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