‘Teaching is a craft and it is best learnt as an apprentice observing a master craftsman or woman’, (Gove, 2010).
There are teachers who see teaching as a craft, taking pride in the skilful orchestration of classrooms based on years of practice. ‘Since there can be no skilled work without standards, it is infinitely preferable that these standards be embodied in a human being than in a lifeless, static code,’ (Sennett, 2008:80).
The teachers that I work with, as mentors to trainee teachers, have craft knowledge, craft skills and and moral purpose. New teachers would be lost without them and the best trainees are the first to acknowledge the debt they owe them. Almost without exception, however, they lack time. It is exceptionally difficult for a mentor in school to spend as much time as we really need on the ‘why’ of teaching.
University-based teacher educators can and should be different. At the same time as they support the development of practical wisdom in their students, they are part of an institution based on…reason, ‘an institution that insists they subject their own knowledge, their skills and their values to critical scrutiny’, (Furlong 2013: 179).
The argument that teaching is a craft does not necessarily rule out university involvement.
Is it true that learning to teach is only about apprenticeship? The problem is that the presence of craft knowledge and skill does not mean that schools work well as workshops for trainees. In fact, most ‘schools are not designed with teacher learning in mind’, (McNamara, Jones and Murray, 2014: 9). Novice teachers often lack the time and space in school to for reflection needed to achieve mastery through ‘ethical craftsmanship’ (Sennett, 2008:296). Instead, in schools, ‘There is no safety-net for the pre-service teacher…and huge risk of witnessed failure’ in a system that is focused more on ‘workplace performance than workplace learning’, (Childs, Edwards and McNicholl, 2014:29). A central role for universities in ITE is to provide a place for new teachers who have questions to ask, (Ellis and McNicholl 2015).
Surely Gove has to be right about observation though? Novices must see not only see state of the art practice to reproduce it, ‘It is impossible to teach people how to teach powerfully by asking them to imagine what they have never seen.’ (Darling-Hammond, 2006:308, my italics).
But is it true that we can only learn from observation? In my experience as a teacher educator, it is vital for most people, and yet it doesn’t work for some. They have to learn by doing. They have to be able to ask questions and treat their lesson planning and classroom experience as an inquiry and not just a performance.
If school experience is instead conceptualised as creating an ‘object of inquiry’, (Ellis, 2010: 116), then once again universities have a role. As Furlong argued, ‘when we engage in a complex practical activity such as teaching…’ we need to ‘theorise to make sense of it, (Furlong 2013: 185).
The argument that teaching is only about apprenticeship and observation is flawed. Teachers are deep thinkers too.