It so often seems to me that education is a world with kings but no prophets. It has those who have power but lacks those to guide and find a way through its and life’s confusions. There is a need for a new perspective on education, on its purpose and its responsibilities. There are few great causes or crusades anymore but education is one that remains. But maybe for you, it doesn’t.
Text by Cliff Parry, Academic Manager, British Council
Perhaps you are too cocooned in the comfort of that which exists, blaming its poverty on others and concerned only with your own survival. If that is so, then education is lost and with it perhaps the future of those entrusted to you.
If anything is to happen, there must be a start; a beginning. To wait for a leader, a prophet, to guide us into the future perhaps condemns us to be forever disillusioned. It has to start somewhere – perhaps with you, individually, in your place; in your own school, in your own time; now and tomorrow.
Are you where you need to be? The answer lies in the way you see yourself. Why exactly do you teach?
Well it isn't for the money, is it? Social recognition perhaps? Ah if only – the world we live in honours doctors, recognises lawyers but accuses teachers …. So why do you teach??
As language teachers, I suppose we could claim to be motivated by a desire to teach others how to communicate in another language, or a wish to explain the intricacies of its grammar. Yes content mediation is central to language teaching; building up knowledge following a pre-defined sequence and at the same times mediating issues of challenge and complexity. We might also say that cultural mediation is part of the mix through the teaching of a register, genre and domain in a particular language but ultimately we are still teaching the code of the language. Content is key but to define ourselves by content mediation only seems to lack a nobility of purpose.
Teachers are not just purveyors of information. The classroom in general and the language classroom in particular is a microcosm of everyday society and like the society which it serves, certain behavioural norms need to be developed and observed for it to function successfully and effectively.
So though our primary role as language teachers is to mediate language and the cultural norms of its use, we are also presented with the environment for social mediation; an opportunity to socialize learners into the community through the practice of nobility, benevolence, collaboration and co-operation. Ancient Greeks aspired to be καλοκάγαθος – a word which like so many is too rich to have a real English equivalent.
Ancient Athens built an empire with the silver from Lavrion mines. I have a great sympathy for those who work in the rock belly of the earth, coming from a mining family and having studied mining engineering. I can almost smell the sweat and hear the heavy fall of pick on stone when I say Lavrion. Now why am I saying this? In mining, there are few choices, things either are or aren’t. From silver to coal there is often only 1 way to dig it out. In essence when I went underground in 1985, mining was the same filthy job that my father had done and his father before him. Not so for teachers, we have choice in how we work. Be it deciding on the approach, the technique or the activity or the means and the materials, critical thought or pedagogical mediation is demanded of us as professionals
Are you where you need to be? Take a moment to reflect on education, on its purpose and your responsibilities.