It seems teachers are generally suspicious of non-teaching providers and I have felt this myself at times, sitting through whole-school professional development intended to somehow meet the needs of the maintenance, administration and teaching staff.
Some professional development seems like a waste of precious and scarce teacher time. Can you imagine a consultancy spending a collective 100-plus billable hours on generic keynotes?
I polled my followers about whether teaching expertise was essential to delivering meaningful PD. About 340 people replied and to be honest, the response surprised me.
About 35 per cent said it was ‘kinda important’ depending on the context, and a huge 60 per cent said it was essential for providers to have teaching experience. I expected far more on the ‘depends’ side of things.
The comments were instructive and showed some of the nuances of the ‘depends’ option. For example, with pedagogy, people generally thought teaching experience would be useful, if not essential.
But I’m still surprised and I did consider whether people’s responses may have been influenced by all the times they’ve been talked at by an external authority who has never set foot in a classroom and has little interest in getting to know what actually happens.
Repeated instances of experiences like this may lead teachers to reject the idea that non-teaching experts have something to bring to the table.
There might be also primary/secondary split. It’s not uncommon for teachers to report being let down by their initial teacher instruction, which is often delivered by academics with little classroom experience.
But nowhere has this been more abject than for primary school teachers, with some major universities still non-committal when it comes to reading instruction.
Pamela Snow pointed out that 5000 participants have willingly signed up for the short courses on the Science of Reading at La Trobe.
A major drawcard of this inter-field learning would have to be that the Science of Reading is designed for classrooms.
I think there is quite a bit of anti-intellectualism in teaching, which I’ve written about here. But I don’t think that in this case, these charges give the whole picture. I’ve mentally divided the respondents into three camps:
- Anti-intellectuals - a tiny proportion, if any;
- Trads who only trust those with recent teaching experience or those out of field with basically none! Those providers without teaching experience might be content specialists, learning or reading scientists, or necessarily out of field experts like psychologists;
- Teachers with a strong distrust of non-teachers because of their past experiences with ITE, or who have lost countless hours of their lives to worthless professional development.
Based on the poll results, this third group is the largest, and this is worrying. Paul sums it up well:
A recent conversation with our school speechie really brought home the missed opportunities that can arise from this resistance. She spoke candidly about her struggles to build partnerships with schools.
Her work, while separate and specialised, aligned so incredibly well with ours.
She has unique insight into our students and the ways they struggle with language. She is coming to deliver some professional development with our team this term and I will leave you with the moving words she sent me as a follow-up to our initial meeting, published here with permission:
"Not having much interest or understanding from teaching staff has been so disheartening and frustrating that I contemplated just retiring many times (for my own mental health).
I have worked in pretty much complete isolation for the past few years, with no teacher engagement. I have no access to any internal school systems so mostly have no clue what is going on.
Speech-Language Pathologists should be an integral part of every school - infant, primary and high school given 15-20 per cent of students have some kind of language impairment - not skulking around the edges of the education system, working on their own."