The chances are you’ve never heard of Winifred Mercier
(1874-1934). I hadn’t until I read Teacher Education through Active Engagement
*. Mercier had been Vice Principal of the City of Leeds Training College when she clashed with the College management over her enlightened ideas for teacher training. She resigned in 1915 and nine women colleagues gave notice in protest. Mercier went on to head Whitelands College (now part of Roehampton University).
Nearly one hundred years later and teacher education is under threat from those who would degrade teaching to a “craft” which can be practised by someone with a degree and a few tricks who picks it up on-the-job.
But the many contributors to this book argue that teachers need a solid intellectual foundation in education and social theory followed by continued professional development. Teaching is an academic activity – a teacher is a scholar as well as being a teacher of scholars
. And scholarly engagement continues throughout a teacher’s career. It encourages analysis, reflection and evaluation. It demands collaboration and deep thinking about what teachers are doing and how they are doing it. Teaching is a complex activity.
The book analyses the threats facing not just teacher education but education itself
: how data can give a false impression of a school’s effectiveness; how pursuit of “good” data distorts what is taught; how the purpose of education is moving from children’s interests to the interests of “business, enterprise and wealth creation”; and how a focus on outcomes diverts attention from the process. Assessment, the book argues, is formative as well as summative – it informs teaching and encourages pupil engagement.
Teachers need conviction; they need passion; they need to be creative, this book argues. Yet teacher education in England appears to be aimed at producing teacher “clones” – identikit technicians who “deliver” the same curriculum using the same (government approved) methods.
This isn’t just true in teaching schools which “grow their own” and produce teachers who could lack the skills to teach in different types of schools but for English schools as a whole. In theory, academies and free schools can opt out of the national curriculum. In practice, the Government makes it clear what type of curriculum (the “knowledge- rich” curriculum inspired by E D Hirsch and rehashed for the UK) should be offered in “good” schools and that this curriculum should be taught using “traditional” teaching not the much-misrepresented “progressive” methods reviled by ill-informed, non-expert politicians.
Worse, academies and free schools don’t have to employ trained teachers and are under no obligation to require these de-professionalised staff to undertake any training. But, in the words of Winifred Mercier:
“A teacher who cannot or who does not wish to go on learning, will become a hindrance to the progress of education and a danger to the intellectual development of hundreds of children.”
If you take just one message from this book, it is these words.
*ed Beckett, Lori, Teacher Education through Active Engagement:Raising the professional voice
, 2013, Routledge
: For a potted history of Mercier’s life listen to Germaine Greer at the annual Winifred Mercier Public Lecture
in May 2010. It begins about 31 minutes into the speech.
, who edited Teacher Education through Active Engagement
, is The Winifred Mercier Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Metropolitan University.