Wednesday, 22 May 2013

From Teaching to Learning

Having spent an entire career as a teacher, I have been reflecting recently on the many changes in education over my 34 year career. Starting back in 1976 at a school with an almost exclusively industrial working class catchment area in Renfrewshire, I found the first day quite an intimidating experience. The pupils were fine.....the attitudes and expectations of a number of the staff left much to be desired.

My first principal teacher had one mantra: ‘You are there to teach....the ‘wean’s are there to learn....anyone who does not want to learn will be belted (by you......yes me!!!!) until they are ready to shut up and get down to work !!!!

I have to admit that I was once forced to use the belt principal teacher said it was all about ‘establishing myself with the punters’. More nervous than the ‘hardened offender’ about to be punished, I swung the belt, missed the two outstretched hands and hit my own leg..............very painful!  Fortunately there were no witnesses. Dismissing the intended victim, I made no further efforts to ‘establish myself’ in that way.

At the end of my 2 year probationary period, I was summoned to the Deputy Head Teacher’s office where I was asked to read and sign the final assessment form. Apparently I had passed my probation and was now a fully registered teacher. The DHT had noted on the form that I ‘was a natural teacher’. Quite how the school came to that conclusion is a mystery to this day as no – one had ever observed me teach a single lesson during that time!  

I soon realised that good teaching, positive relationships and a sense of humour were the key ingredients to success.

By the late 1980s, corporal punishment had mercifully been banned. Educational research was beginning to impact the classroom in a positive way. With a focus on learning and the quality of the learning experience as a key adjunct to teaching, teachers were forced to re-examine, and in many cases change their practice. As a result, the learning and the attainment of children and young people improved.

By the time I retired in 2010, I had the great privilege as an education officer to sit in classes and observe learning and teaching of the highest quality.

Sadly as I reflect on my life as a Christian in a number of different churches, I cannot say that I have observed the same shift in emphasis from teaching to effective learning. That’s not to say that the Ministers and Pastors that I have listened to have been poor teachers. A number were very good. However, their teaching had minimal impact on the lives of their congregants......some of whom had been receiving teaching for more than 50 years!  

In the Old testament, the Prophet Hosea, referring to the people of Israel said: ‘my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’. The rest of the verse goes on to explain that the people did not simply lack knowledge; they actively rejected it. Perhaps that’s why the church in Scotland is in decline.

The learning of all Scottish young people is assessed at age 16. Teachers are subsequently assessed on how well their pupils perform. Every individual will one day have to give an account to God for their life. What will that day reveal about your learning from God....????
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