I confess to a blunder: I have often put forward that teachers should be regarded in the same light as medical professionals. I have argued that we are as important to society, and that we consequently need to ensure that we are constantly updating our skills and using the latest techniques and technologies in order to offer the best possible service. I now realize this is wrong.
Teachers are not like doctors. Primarily, the difference is this: our focus is very different – most doctors focus on diagnosing and rectifying an immediate problem. Although teachers also do this, our focus is far more long-term: preparing young people for life. Hence, the measure of our success is how well our customers flourish ten, twenty or thirty years in the future. Only if we’re very lucky will they remember what we did for them.
This is not to say that doctors don’t want their patients to live long, healthy lives, but it is not their main focus. It is ours.
I would like to suggest a different comparison. It is one that I believe provides far more fertile ground for thought. It is also a comparison that puts to rest teachers’ constant nagging about being taken more seriously by society as ‘professionals’. We not are not professionals, we are blue-collar workers. We get our hands dirty, ours is a craft – we are builders.
Here are a few things that comparing teachers to builders throws to light…
1. Both are responsible for translating blueprints into real-world scenarios. Teachers do this by decoding syllabi, applying neurological and educational best practice and integrating whole-school philosophies. In order to make these work, we need to consider the needs of our classes and our students. One size does not fit all – we need to adapt these blueprints to the needs of our students.
2. We need to constantly monitor our progress and assess what we’ve built. Seen in this light, assessments are always reflective: they are a comment on how well we have managed to implement our customised building plan. Assessment results are thus a comment on both the teacher and the student.
3. It takes a long time and a team effort to build a functional building. Each of a child’s teachers, throughout their whole school career will contribute something to their development. This includes their friends, their parents and a variety of media.
4. A structure is made functional by what you can’t see. The foundation, the plumbing, the wiring and the heating. A teachers job is certainly to help students build a solid store of knowledge (‘the bricks and cement of an education’), but even more importantly, it is to put in place the ‘hidden’ abilities to reason, argue, collaborate, solve problems, develop their independence, create innovative solutions and to develop a sensitivity towards others.
5. A building built right is never finished. Once a structure has been handed over, a garden can be added, walls painted differently, decor and appliances added and so on. In the extended metaphor, this denotes a teacher encouraging life-long learning. School should be the start of a long process of augmenting, refining and strengthening learning.
6. No building ever goes exactly to the blueprint. They are customised in accordance with the needs of the client and with the environment. Good educators do the same thing by tailoring learning according to the needs of their students. In so doing, they also empower their students to continue the process: customizing, demolishing and rebuilding their learning as they go through life.
I look forward to your comments and contributions!