Friday, 25 October 2013

Question Time - Bad Education or Rock Star Teachers?

In his book "Audacity of Hope," Barack Obama highlights the importance the media plays on his image, and the impact this portrayal can have with the general public;

"For the broad public at least, I am who the media say I am. I say what they say I say. I become who they say I've become."

Last night on Question Time we had a group of panelists who seemed to want to out do each other, as usual. They were discussing whether educators should be qualified or not. I was intrigued at the line of argument that the panelist decided to take the debate;

"I went to a bad school, and it didn't do me any harm" seemed to be the sentiment, which was then countered with "Oh yeah, well I went to an even worse one than you!"

I can't imagine what it must be like being an educator in the UK at the moment - no job stability with policies like 0 hour contracts, wage freezes, bias towards independent schools (charter or private), children who at worst have some serious behaviour issues and at best show no desire to learn and, in some cases, get little or no support from parents.

Now that's a bad enough set of circumstances for anyone to work with. To then go home at night and, when not marking assignments or making up lesson plans, are treated to what can only be described as some horrendous press coverage - including from their employers of all people.

This is how we treat the people we expect to inspire our kids?

If there was an argument at all for filling our classrooms with people who were not fully qualified educators, it is because we have demolarised this vital profession to such an extent that maybe they have considered the press coverage over the years and thought;

"What's the point... according to the debates on shows like Question Time, these kids will turn out just fine! In fact the less I do the better, I might even get a shout out in the 'I-went-to-a-worse-school-than-you-competition' on Question Time in a few years time"  

I know it's a crazy idea, but imagine if we could have had the panelists say;

I was brought up in a deprived area and it was Mr/Mrs XYZ  who opened up a world of possibilities

In general, I tend to prefer the way that people who work in tech convey the same messages as politicians do, and the "I came from humble beginning and overcame the odds" story is no different... and the role that they feel that education played. I love Google's Jamie Casap's Ted Talk - Saving the Silver Bullet

Malcolm Gladwell and other highlights how people become successful BECAUSE of their humble beginnings, not in spite of them. This is something that Andrew Carnegie agreed with;

"It is not the rich man's son that the young struggler for advancement has to fear in the race for life. Let him look out for the "dark horse" in the boy who begins by sweeping out the office"

And check out this from poor to rich infographic (Other fantastic one re: fortitude, persistence, resiliance and grit at Funders and Founders). People who battle against the odds like this to achieved their goals should be applauded and held up as role models, but is criticising education really necessary?  

PR Nightmare?
Even if our educators don't feel like being subjected to further demolarisation from their employers via Question Time at the end of the day they can always change the channel, right? Maybe not.

On our screens at the moment we have a number of shows that include educators... but none that convey them in the most positive light. These include comedies like - Bad Education, Man Down, Big School, Some Girls. We have also had a few series of The Inbetweeners.

I appreciate that these comedies are not aimed at teachers, as they highlight some of the coming of age issues young people face today. Neither do I lack a sense of humour, I find some of these shows quite amusing. But almost every show portrays educators negatively? What is the impact of consistently conveying educators in a less than positive light in popular culture?

People talk about the role violent films and games have on young people, what happens when most of the shows with classroom scenes includes regular student disruption?
Or when the educators are all angry, grumpy, depressed and/or incompetent?

Today's News: Tomorrows Fish & Chip Paper... Unless it's every day!
Why don't you switch of the Television and do something else instead? Good idea... 

Where's the newspaper? Any mention of education in the press is also invariably negative, like;
  • The usual running argument with politicians about whether it's teachers who are failing our students; or policy makers failing our educators. This leads to,
  • Articles about the "dumbing down" of education 
  • Employer dissatisfaction about young people not being employable
  • Some scandal about a teachers' inappropriate behaviour
It's the newspaper's job to sell papers and we all know that bad news sells better than good news... That is with the exception of the celeb gossip.

Every day, without fail we have what I can only describe as the most banal commentary about our precious celebrities... and if you saw Katie Price arrive at The Festival of Education you will know that educators are not immune to this phenomenon. 

Then we wonder why all our young people want to do when they grow up is "be a celeb?"

This also exists in the world of sport in the US with college sports coaches making more than other educators, and college sports students getting scholarships and even get paid by the college. The argument here being that the students make a lot of money for the college. 

I can see the both sides of the argument here, but look at what Apple, Google and Microsoft are doing for the economy so, using the same argument, did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg's most influential teachers get paid a sports coaches salary? 

Is it any wonder this is our young people's aspiration when this is the treatment they get?

Popular Culture & Policy?
Does this negative media image of educators and love affair with all things celeb lead to policy makers asking; 

"Why do we even need our educators to be qualified?" 

Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? Wonder if you'll still be thinking that in a few paragraphs time, once I've put my argument foward; or maybe you will... except think that I'm a little crazy. Meh... that's fine, I can live with either!

Too Cool for School!
The Apprentice and Dragon's Den first appeared on our screens in 2005. I have worked at start ups since 2001 and with the exception of tech startups, and usually only when there was a particularly heavily funded failure, I don't recall there being a huge amount of startup coverage then.

Today being an "Entrepreneur" is all the rage, there are umpteen shows with and/or about entrepreneurs... Indeed if you compare some of these entrepreneurs businesses with their TV commitments, you might think that they are now more celebrity than entrepreneur... and who can blame them given our love affair with celebs.

The start up agenda is now tearing its way through every aspect of our education system. Would this have been the case if it were not for these shows creating entrepreneurial celebrities?

You may scoff at how finkle this all sounds but w
e are irrational and politics is a popularity game - which lends itself well to aligning with celebrity, trends and quick fixes that allow for great soundbites and flashy ideas. Even if they have no substance. What could be better? How about an initiative that provides soundbites that promises to fix education AND the economy!

Am I committing some kind of education sacrilege by claiming that education entrepreneurship won't work? Does entreprenuership not have the potential to be a game changer? 

Sure, it might!  MIT alumni companies have a combined revenue of $2 Trillion, which would make it the 11 richest country in the world!

But stop and think for a moment, what kind of EDUCATION do you need to get into MIT? It's a risky business and needs smart risk taking. Or what about how tough this "exciting entrepreneurial life" can be. What about facts like;

8 out of 10 new businesses fail within the first 3 years, or only 1 in 10 VC startups succeed (and they turn down some 99% of the business plans they see) or the heavy psychological price of entrepreneurship... and that's for the successful ones!

Regardless of these inconvenient statistics, we are now seeing all these dynamic, go-getting entrepreneurs involved with education and creating some hoopla. 

Their energy, dynamism and celeb status gets everyone worked up and energised, which is really fantastic. 

Education needs closer links with business so the curriculum matches what students need to succeed.

By their very nature, entrepreneurs are change agents - always looking to improve things and make inefficient markets more efficient, again this is great. Peter Sheahan highlights in Talent Magnets how positive Australian education leaders found getting some training and mentoring from business leaders.

I also love that experts visits schools. If this is a entrepreneurial celebrity this will get everyone excited - students, parents, teachers, local and national politicians. He/she comes in gives their inspiring talk, this should be a regular occurrence and I love this post by Robert Peston about the value of Speakers for Schools and Skype Classroom. 

Where things are not so great, is that entrepreneurs are being listened to more than our educators. Maybe after one of these events the politician and entrepreneur have lunch and the topic of "what they would do to fix edu" comes up. Maybe the celeb says; 

"You know what, I couldn't help noticing how miserable the staff were? In my organisation everyone is an upbeat-passionate-go-getter, I wouldn't have people who looked that miserable working for me" Then it happens... Some bright spark says 

"We need more people like you in our classes, people with passion and energy... why do you even need a qualification to teach anyway?"

I agree with the argument that a student who is taught by someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about their subject, but not a qualified teacher, probably would learn more than a qualified teacher who is demotivated, uninspiring and uninterested in the topic that they are teaching.

The innovators that policy makers are looking for already exists in education, but it is not obvious because they are buried in procedures, policy, league tables and teaching to exam guidelines.

The reason startups has the high energy, go-getters is because the culture the entrepreneurs establish, which includes autonomy and trust.

But why can't we have the best of both worlds? Because it would take years? Because it would be too expensive? Because it would be impossible? I disagree.

But then again, I've spent a long time in startup land and John Doerr's definition of an entrepreneur is; 

"Doing more than anyone thought possible with less than anyone thought possible"

NB I think that its a little ironic that anytime a school or college has a start up event that there are hardly ever any Education entrepreneurs in attendance. Is there a moral in this story? Could it be, if you want be an entrepreneur when you grow up don't work in education?

Educators Rock! So Let's Make them the Rockstars!

If you think I'm crazy you can stop reading now because, as far as you're concerned, I'm now entering into the realm of the truly bizarre.

If I've put forward a convincing argument then, i
f you can't beat 'em... Let's Rock'n'Rock!

Let's go get all entrepreneurial
 and celeb! Let's give education a big make over... With a little bit of positive PR why can't educators get a bit of celebrity status?

Although, while Gok Wan might be able to make people look good naked; would he be able to make educators look good in the classroom? And which would be the bigger challenge for him...Lol.

Oh you think I'm crazy now too, eh? OK, I have 7 words for you (I think its 7... there's a bit of awkward punctuation involved, so it may be 10) - Dara O'Brain,,, Big Bang Theory


I think that Dara Obrain's "The School of Hard Sums" and"Science Club" programmes are great ways of making education cool... he even managed to have some hard sums on the quiz pages of some newspapers. What a refreshing reprieve from the usual negative press.

We also have the fantastic "Horrible Hostories" TV series and "The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets

We know that celebs sell and that people listen to them, how difficult would it be to have a series on "The teacher who inspired me" running in the press?

Would this be successful? There are a number of studies that highlight that positive messaging works very well, and its worked for all things Start Up.

I understand that there was a study in Denmark where some students whose aspirations were "To be a celeb, to be famous..." but with an 8 hour intervention where they heard about projects that scientists and other professionals were working on, they came away saying "I want to be a scientist when I grow up"

The Leveson report has highlighted that politicians have a close relationship with the media, so implementing this could be as simple as a couple of phone calls away.

Rocking with the Stars of Tomorrow!
Just look at what The Big Bang Theory is making physics a popular subject or what, and The Princes Trust is doing to make computer science cool... how many code rockstars of the future will be saying in a few years time; 

"I got into computer science because I spent an hour coding with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and some Angry Birds" 

Will you be encouraging your students to join in with the #hourofcode?

More campaigns like just might help to Re-Brand teachers so our educators get the reputation they deserve - Rockstar status... after all, how many rock stars & and celebs would we have if it wasn't for some of the educators who inspired them?

Super Hero Teachers?
Or you could follow Matt Dickinson's lead and get in touch with DC Comics and Marvel to create your very own super hero alter-ego which is Mecha-Man to help inspire a generation... all in the name of science

An example of an educator firing up the imagination of students outside the classroom as well as in lectures... At least one educator has achieved the kind of status that more should have. I look forward to other educators and subjects getting the same kind of Marvelous PR (geddit, couldn't resist).

And if all else fails then you can go get all business like, earn $4 million teaching in South Korea, then come back and teach as an entrepreneurial celebrity... complete with a teaching qualification. Sorted!

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