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Reducing teachers to remote-controlled robots

What on earth is happening to teaching? There’s a wave of almost unbelievable practices appearing in classrooms. This is the latest jaw-dropper and, truly, I am stunned:

“Last year, my school contracted with the Center for Transformational Training or CT3 to train teachers using an approach called No Nonsense Nurturing.

It c3powas supposed to make us more effective instructors by providing *immediate, non-distracting feedback to teachers using wireless technology.* In other words, earpieces and walkie talkies.

I wore a bug in my ear. I didn’t have a mouthpiece. Meanwhile an official No Nonsense Nurturer, along with the school’s first year assistant principal and first year behavior intervention coach, controlled me remotely from the corner of the room where they shared a walkie talkie. (Source)

Where to begin?

The teacher is forbidden to speak in whole sentences.

The teacher must narrate what is happening in the room: ‘Noel is is finishing question 3. Marjorie is sitting silently. Alfredo is on page 6.’

The teacher must speak in a monotone voice.

The teacher must stand on both legs and not favour one over the other.

The teacher, it seems, mustn’t teach but must manage, and do it in the most robotic way possible.

It sounds as though there’s no room for joy, no room for praise, no room for individualisation. No room for the human, personal connections that are vital to a healthy learning environment. Just a teacher with an earpiece being directed from the back of the room by three people selling a product:

robot teacher Jetsons“*Give him a warning,* said the voice through the earpiece I was wearing. I did as instructed, speaking in the emotionless monotone I’d been coached to use.

But the student, a sixth grader with some impulsivity issues and whose trust I’d spent months working to gain, was excited and spoke out of turn again.

*Tell him he has a detention,* my earpiece commanded. At which point the boy stood up and pointed to the back of the room, where the three classroom *coaches* huddled around a walkie talkie.

*Miss: don’t listen to them! You be you. Talk to me! I’m a person! Be a person, Miss. Be you!*”

Teachers, when you look back ten, fifteen or twenty years, did you ever imagine it could ever come to this?

And yet it has.

New Zealand teachers please don’t be complacent and think this is just the Americans, we wouldn’t ever do this.  We are not immune to madcap and ill-thought-out education reforms, nor are we immune to the lure of the chance to make a dollar or two from selling snake oil. This will especially be a danger once the TPPA is signed and free trade overrides education policy.

KIPP charter school chain, who sell this method, have their beady eye on NZ and have been here to visit business groups and the Minister…

Like it or not, one way or another, US education reforms deforms seem to eventually find their way to Aotearoa, no matter how far away they seem at the start.

Unless you want an earpiece, three coaches and a complete castration of your teaching skills, you must actively resist.

Kia kaha, teachers. Stay strong.



Further readings:

Are you teaching mastery or speed?

You know the scene, the teacher asks a question and hands shoot up so fast it’s entirely possible the sound barrier is broken. Bums start to jiggle on seats, hands start to wave and bob up and down, and a wee cacophony of “ooh ooh, me, miss, me” begins.

School students learn quickly that the fastest hand up often wins the game, but is that right?

We’ve all seen the kid who shoots his hand up like a rocket but when called for his answer gets it wrong.  Or gives a totally random response. Or who quite simply has nothing.  But, hey, thinks the student, the hand was up first, so that still counts for something, right?

Teachers come up with many ways around this.  Fingers on noses instead of hands in the air; think, pair, share; no hands up at all.  But the kids still find a way to show they got the answer super fast, because they have already learned that fast means good.They learn it from teachers, parents and other kids. First is best.

We need to counter this.

First is not always best. Accuracy is more important than speed. Taking the time to think about the problem so that you can choose an adequate strategy to approach and solve it is a huge skill. Kids need to know that speed develops with mastery and confidence.

So next time you ask your kids a question, reflect on how they answer you and why. Accurate or fast?  Students need to know there’s nothing wrong with getting a wrong answer – it’s the road to learning. But what a shame to get a wrong answer just because you didn’t give yourself time to think properly.

Slow and steady can indeed win the race: the goal is a good answer not just a fast one.


Reviews, good teaching, and engaged students

“Not all teachers and students deserve prizes but they do deserve self-esteem, opportunity and fulfilment and moreover fair treatment.

A prerequisite of this is a properly funded education system which genuinely seeks to meet need and does not penalise and denigrate students simply for starting the educational process with very little, and denigrating and punishing staff for having to work harder and more effectively in these contexts than in any other.”


A recent UK report, Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation, looked at a schools in disadvantaged areas to analyse what behaviours make an “outstanding” teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress.  The report speaks to questions asked by and of educators worldwide, and is as pertinent to our own situation in New Zealand as it is in England.

Socioeconomic Issues

The report’s findings will not surprise most teachers, citing social and economic deprivation as a major factors in students’ chances of success.  Neither will it surprise many (any?) teachers that they are often expected to act as surrogate parents for those without support and stability in their home lives.

Professor Bridget Cooper, Director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, UK, who led the report, says: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding. Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.”

“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have work even harder.”

The Danger of an Overbearing Review Office

The report also looks at the role of OFSTED, which is the UK equivalent of ERO, and raises concerns that reviews are often barriers to good teaching practice, being so very prescriptive that teachers find it hard to harness their own creativity and create engaging learning for students.

Great teachers inspireWe are lucky in New Zealand, that ERO reviews – whilst no doubt stressful at times – are nothing like what England’s schools have to bear.

Whilst in Aotearoa differentiation and personalised teaching is still, quite rightly, seen as good pedagogy even by the review office, the report found in England OFSTED insisted on “having objectives at the start of the lesson which does not always work with each student”.  It went on to say that “[s]everal staff said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning (both secondary and primary) and can make lessons dull and mechanical.”

Far from allowing teachers to do what they know works or to experiment with new resources and pedagogy in order to engage students and inspire them,  “teachers are constrained by the structure of the school day and the push for conformity is hindering progress in “deprived” schools.”

Of course, things are made even worse when you consider that in England teachers are subject to performance pay.  This means that there is pressure to jump through whatever hoops OFSTED deems important, as your wages depend on it.  It doesn’t mean teaching better or responding to students’ needs more appropriately, though.

And there’s the rub.




Them And Us – Can teachers and industry experts work together?

Education is top of the agenda not just in New Zealand but all over the world.

Fight the GERMReforms (or as I like to call them ‘deforms’) are being pushed through, and once a reform hits the USA, it hits the UK, and  sooner or later Aotearoa catches up.  So, in my bid to keep my beady eye on the GERM (global education reform movement), I read a lot of what happens in the UK.

In good old Blighty, the political parties are in the midst of a bitch-fest on a scale last seen on Glee, with accusations flying back and forth between MPs, and even the exchange of terse letters .(You remember those, right? They are texts but on paper).

It’s all rather riveting, to be honest, and would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that it’s children’s learning that is being used in this political football match.

Anyhoo, I was particularly interested in this piece by Tristram Hunt.  Dr Hunt is a UK Labour Party MP, a broadcaster, and an historian that lectures on Modern British History at Queen Mary, University of London.

This week the Minister of Education has been arguing that Dr Hunt should not teach lessons in his local school as he is not a qualified teacher.  Now this intrigued me as it speaks to questions being asked in Aotearoa, too.  So I read Mr Hunt’s response to Mr Gove with interest.

Here it is for you to ponder:

When my son has a fever, I sometimes give him a bit of Calpol; this doesn’t make me a doctor. Sometimes I take a class on Stoke and the industrial revolution; this doesn’t make me a teacher.

Indeed, every time I enter the classroom I am more and more convinced of the need for well-trained and qualified classroom teachers as they manage all the modern demands of pedagogy, scholarship, learning, inspiration, empathy, analysis and sheer bloody time-management. The success of the Finnish education system is based precisely on a highly motivated and qualified teaching profession.

But rather than encouraging MPs to spend more time in the classroom, Gove wants to pillory public representatives who are passionate about schooling.

So be it. The Labour party takes a different view. We will not stand in the way of civic minded experts speaking in schools, be they from politics, the arts, science or industry. Indeed, we want more of it.

This is also a matter of social justice. While the likes of Eton College and St Paul’s can enjoy an endless caravan of high-profile speakers, this is not the case in other schools around the country. As a result, their children’s horizons can be lowered and their career options stunted, and potential unfulfilled.

So, we wholeheartedly support brilliant initiatives such as Future First, which exposes people to inspiring professionals as part of careers education, or Teach First’s Every Child Can campaign, which attracts high-profile business leaders to teach a one-off lesson.

We are also very open to allowing new talent into our school system. Teach First, which was set up under the last Labour government, has demonstrated the success of attracting high-performing graduates into our most challenging schools.

But exposing our schoolchildren to as many outside speakers and ideas as possible (such as BBC business editor Robert Peston’s excellent Speaker for Schools programme) is a very different issue from that of raising professional standards for full-time, permanent teachers. On this our message is clear – at the next election Labour will offer what parents want: high-quality, fully qualified teachers in every classroom.

As Jacques Barzun, the great American philosopher of education once said, “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” The Labour party has not lost its regard. And if my local heads let me, I’ll be back at the chalk-face.  Source.

Now, I have to make it clear that I’m not at all convinced yet that the UK Labour party and I are on precisely the same page regarding education policy.  but what Dr Hunt said sits well with me.

Teachers should be educated professionals, planning lessons, and guiding students’ learning with a full and comprehensive understanding of pedagogy.

shake handsAnd in addition to that, experts from all fields should be invited into schools to share their knowledge and excitement and passion with students AND teachers.    What’s not to like?

I love space and could teach a good unit about it at primary level,  but holy moly how fabulous to have someone from Carter Observatory or an amateur astronomer or a postgrad come in and share their knowledge, too.

I should note that many teachers already invite in experts, but wouldn’t it be fabulous if it were done more – much, much more?  Wouldn’t it be great if experts knew they were welcome and felt welcome to offer their voluntary services for a lecture here, an experiment there?

Surely this is the best possible scenario?  Well trained, respected, professional teachers inspiring students alongside visiting experts.

Think TED for schools.


What do you think?


What’s Even Dafter Than Unqualified and Untrained Teachers?

Answer:  Unqualified and untrained teachers being given Qualified Teacher Status.

Catherine Isaacs’ latest ridiculous idea is  to give official teacher registration to people who have no teaching qualifications at all.

Yes, that’s right – NONE.

No research, training or prior learning in pedagogy of any description.

Nothing about different educational psychology, learning theories, multiple intelligences, behavioural practices, cognitive research, constructivist theory,  issues around motivation, assessment of students’ learning, or behaviour and classroom management.

Zip, diddly, squat.

And yet Isaacs is proposing these people (I refuse to call them teachers) are recognised as qualified teachers by the Teachers’ Council.

Does she seriously think that subject knowledge alone is all it takes?  Some of the cleverest people I have known cannot explain a darned thing to those at a lower level of understanding, failing to grasp what is needed to break the information down, let alone impart it to a room full of different students, some who are interested, some not, some who are clever, some who are not, some who learn by thinking, some by doing, and, well, you get the idea.

I am not arguing against experts being in classrooms, far from it – but if someone truly wants to teach then they surely should be happy to invest in learning the ins and outs of the whole job, which is a darned sight more than just having a high level of subject knowledge.

Would you be happy for your child to receive a diagnosis or injection from someone with a degree in biology or chemistry but no medical training?   It’s madness, pure and simple.


Further reading

Pasi Sahlberg part 1 – A Dream Finnish Line

how_finland_became_an_educational_leader-460x307Today I had the fortune to spend two hours listening to Pasi Sahlberg talk about education.

He didn’t rant, he didn’t rave, in fact he didn’t even sound impassioned – here just talked sense.  He didn’t have notes or a crib sheet, and he didn’t have a political agenda – he just spoke about something he understands well.  It was really quite something.

The talk covered so many very interesting points that I’m breaking it up into a number of shorter blogs to make it digestible.

Here I will just outline some facts about Finland’s education system, without commentary, and leave it to you to think about and comment on them.

Facts About The Finnish Education System

  • All education is 100% publicly funded in Finland.
  • All school materials (books, pencils, etc) are provided and are free.
  • Dental and health care is free.
  • Travel to and from school is free.
  • Compulsory schooling starts the year the child turns 7 years old.
  • Students have the same teacher from year 1 to year 6, then specialist teachers for the final 3 years.
  • There is no testing until children are 15 years old.
  • Only the core curricula are designed for nationwide application. They leave freedom for local education authorities to arrange teaching in the best way suited to local circumstances.
  • There are no national standards.
  • Every child is fed a hot 3 course meal every day at school.
  • Every school has a doctor, a nurse, and a counsellor on site.
  • Teachers have less student contact time and more teacher-teacher contact time.
  • The schools day is shorter.
  • School is 150 days per year.
  • All teachers have a masters degree and a further teaching qualification.
  • There are no school inspections in Finland.

Finland is consistently in the top 5 countries in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) lists.  These are the December 2010 figures:

Finland’s results: score points   OECD countries all participants
Reading literacy  536  2nd  3rd
Mathematical literacy  541  2nd  6th
Scientific literacy  554  1st  2nd

Makes you think, doesn’t it.

Read Part Two Here.



Pasi Sahlber’s talk at Bayfield School, Auckland, NZ, 5th October 2012.

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