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Teachers in turmoil – how can new teachers square the circle of inclusion v targets?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 August 2012

Ruth Heilbronn
What professions are likely to be tempted into unethical behaviour? Bankers? Politicians? Journalists? What about teachers?
They are not the first group of professionals who spring to mind, yet teachers are frequently drawn into tensions over what is the right thing to do because of the conflict between their deeply-held sense of vocation and what they have to do in school.
My research, to be presented at the forthcoming BERA conference, reports on the difficulties student teachers experience because of the contradictory demands they face. In England for example, the statutory national curriculum takes a principled stand on the value of inclusion and states that “teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible”. However, the drive to achieve high league table ranking frequently militates against the principle of inclusion.
The ethical implications here are that pupils may be conceived primarily as a means to an end of higher test results and not “an end in themselves”. Conscientious teachers working in schools that require lessons “delivered” with highly specified “outcomes”, who are trying to cater for all their students, experience conflict when working with the technical demands of a test-dominated curriculum.
With schemes of work developed to tight time-frames, teachers often feel driven on to the next lesson, and this weighs against going where the moment leads and attending to those spontaneous and teachable moments that can arise, or returning to something unfinished, when more time could be fruitful. Prescriptive schemes of work with detailed, specified outcomes for lessons give limited opportunity to follow up pupils’ engaged curiosity and teacher judgement is often overridden by having to “move on” in order to manage the demand for pre-determined lesson outcomes.
Lack of time to engage with pupils’ concerns and questions as they arise in the normal flow can be a source of tension for teachers when they know that some pupils may be left behind in the rush to move ahead. The tensions teachers experience in situations dominated by an auditing paradigm cannot be easily removed, since they have their source in beliefs and values.
Significantly, research has shown that pupils hold similar views. They talk about good teachers as those who listen and help them, and not in technical terms relating to targets and results.
To prepare teachers to enter into school culture with their values of good teaching alive requires teacher educators to act ethically. This creates a double injunction: to prepare student teachers to enable their pupils to learn and achieve of course, but also to develop student teachers’ capacity to withstand the contradictions of school life and keep their vocational ideals alive.
The research is a theoretical discussion in philosophy of education informed with empirical research taken from student teachers’ reflective writing. See Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (Continuum) and Critical Practice in Teacher Education (IOE Press) for more information.