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Teacher retention has been a focus for educational bodies and news reporters for some time.

It’s a global issue, with the same story seen around the world: class sizes have grown (and continue to do so). Paperwork and marking are increasing. Lastly, the discourse of teacher knowledge is disappearing.

What is teacher knowledge?

Teacher knowledge is comprised of the experience a teacher builds over the course of their career. This includes academic knowledge of their subject area, but also theoretical educational knowledge and the practical knowledge that can only be gained by working with students.

Bizarrely, whilst we all agree that education is vital for a successful future and can raise people out of poverty, we consistently fail to show teachers the respect they deserve – and this is what is driving teachers out.

In European countries, less than 25% of people believe that pupils respect their teachers. News outlets regularly blame teachers for an array of societal ills. Even while working as a Head of Department, I have had a pupil in need rebuff my offer of help by shouting “Why should I respect you?! You’re just a teacher!”

Experiences of this kind can have an impact on the number of teachers leaving the profession. This high teacher turnover erodes the level of vital teacher knowledge that is required for clear direction and progress within education.

“Why should I respect you?! You’re just a teacher!”

The life of Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in Britain is already challenging. Experienced teachers will have built up tips, tricks, and experience which can often free up hours of time in what is an already overwhelming workload. NQTs are also having to deal with the fact that our education system as we know it was designed in the industrial revolution – yet we are now in the middle of a tech-driven digital revolution. The current generation of both NQTs and students are digital natives, dealing with an educational ecosystem that is making no effort to engage students in the ways they are used to.

Technology has created a vast world of information that can be hard for us to fathom. We are often apprehensive of letting our young people roam independently in this invisible world. However, harnessed in the right way it can be an invaluable learning tool.

Imagine a classroom where:

  • Rather than taking phones off our students, we encourage their use.
  • Students guide their own learning rather than waiting to be spoon-fed answers.
  • Students work at their own pace, rather than feeling left behind or bored because they’ve heard it before.

It is time to revolutionise our education system and embrace the technology that our young people are increasingly experienced in.

I’m sure some of the teachers reading this will scoff – not so long ago, I would have done the same. A classroom is a complicated place with many needs and wants.

What makes a classroom?

What if we created a learning environment that suited society as it operates now? Today’s digital natives have grown up with the ability to satisfy every curious thought via a smartphone – if we revolutionised our concept of the classroom, could we place more learning responsibility on the student? The teacher then operates as an experienced guide, a mentor, and someone to ensure that the student is exposed to different, reliable viewpoints and schools of thought.

Achievement would not be a reflection of a teacher’s ability to force information into resistant minds, but of a student’s effort and willingness to learn. Our young people would develop the skills to discern reliable information alongside technological fluency. They would be adaptable and resilient to a rapidly changing social environment and uncertain global future.

We need to ask ourselves: what type of society are we building? How can we best ensure our young people are prepared?

It’s not too late to save our education system.

It’s not too late to save our teachers.

We need to embrace the power of technology, and empower our young people to be the drivers of their own futures.

Formerly a Geography teacher and Head of Department, Bethan now works in Pamoja’s Academic team. Her observations in this piece are inspired by Dr Sue Brindley’s presentation at the most recent Cambridge Schools Conference.    

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