‘Don’t smile until Christmas,’ goes a wide spread teacher’s saying. Stay stern, and you’ll get more from your students.

Because, we all had that teacher, didn’t we? The one whose priority, above all else, was to be popular and, as a result, made very little headway. If other teachers were strict, they would relax the rules. If others set homework, they wouldn’t- or at least wouldn’t chase it up by asking it to be handed in or checked. The sort that could easily be redirected from the lesson’s forward momentum with a casual, ‘Why are we studying (insert subject here)? Can we have a discussion?’.

I imagine that it’s for that reason that mainstream teacher training focuses on the role as one of facilitation, so that this ‘cult of personality’ approach is counteracted. Teachers’ planning documents, Schemes of Work as they are termed, focus on a plan for delivering the curriculum on a week by week basis; no hesitation, no deviation, no repetition. Well- maybe some revision at the end, perhaps. Lesson planning encourages a focus on the students; what different ‘styles’ of learning (from a choice of four) do they require, what will they be able to achieve by the end of a class that they couldn’t before? There’s even an array of active verbs to help the teacher create these specific, measurable ‘outcomes’, https://www.apu.edu/live_data/files/333/blooms_taxonomy_action_verbs.pdf because the stable mate of planning culture is evidence culture. ‘Did you do all the things you set out to teach and achieve? Can you prove that?’

The model is built on the notion that good teaching and learning is based on the diametric approach to that ‘popular cop’ teacher; and moreover that with good planning anyone can be instantly replaced. A quick glance at their ‘living’ planning documents, and all the information one might need should be there. Anyone can be replaced in their absence. Techniques for teaching are looked at in similar abstraction, and inspections by the oracular OFSTED measure their deployment in what is itself, here’s an unpopular truth, an exceptionally slip shod and scattergun manner.

So, it’s highly frowned upon to talk about teaching and learning in any way that is qualitative rather than quantitative. Anecdote and case study are considered best confined to academic papers with a scientific remit, after all, how can you possibly measure inspiration or how creative someone is?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an antagonist towards sound educational management or, for that matter, science. It’s just I don’t believe, to use a metaphor, that a really good holiday was ever predicated entirely on the itinerary or the snaps. Planning and evidence are not a substitute for embracing experiences and good company.

Of course, in practice education rarely works to the letter of teacher training theory. Just as we know that a ‘good’ school cannot entirely be identified through a perusal of its league tables, so a ‘good’ teacher is about far more than the sum of their pupil’s results or measurables. Whilst we all accept that grades open opportunities up and help our young people forge their future, the insufficiency of the ‘three R’s’ axiom is, to my mind, best summed up by the fact that only one of them actually is!

We first learn from our parents; whether that be copying the sounds of their voice, learning the rhythms of an otherwise unfathomable nursery rhyme or slipping into their over-sized footwear. And whilst we are encouraged to abandon these early forms of learning for more dispassionate and corporate models, we all begin our learning through relationship in a domestic environment.

That’s one of the things that’s so effective about tutoring. It gives an opportunity for an entirely different approach. Away from buildings, whiteboards, statistics and hard measurables, it offers a return to learning with relationship at its heart, to one-on-one teaching, to a more rich, nuanced and fulfilling psychological dynamic between student and teacher.

More and more schools are now openly acknowledging its effectiveness. Where once upon a time, having a tutor was a guilty secret that might hint at remedial action, it is now openly discussed. Even state schools are accessing tutorials for their gifted and talented students, or to supplement existing staff in a way supply staff have failed to in the past.

I’m inclined to think that this is something to do with relationship being closer to the heart of tutorial teaching. Mentoring, coaching- call it what you will- it underpins all that tutoring can and does achieve. And just think for a moment of a model where, instead of teachers needing to be popular or students puzzle over which they like the most or least, it was possible to choose our teacher, to work with them closely to achieve a goal and, in doing so, accept a new role model into our learning life that may ultimately open the door not only to the opportunities we are aware of and thirst towards, but those we have yet even to consider.

In my experience Dulwich Tutors has, at its heart, these sorts of inspiring tutors. Many are creatives with parallel careers and interests. It is this that makes them not just trouble-shooters, or exam coaches, but people who can inspire and shape our minds and aspirations.

And that’s the sort of idea that’s popular with me.


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