Inertia in Education


Teaching is an incredibly conservative profession. These are people’s children you have in your care and parents have this little habit of being hypercritical of whoever is responsible for their kids. Twenty-nine of your families may love your spiked pink hair and tattoo sleeve, but if one doesn’t you could be in for a rough year.

It gets worse.

Parents have experienced education. Most of us are lucky enough not to have spent significant time as a patient or defendant, therefore if we are suddenly in that situation we don’t have anything to judge the doctor or lawyer against. We assume that they are up to date and know what they are doing until there is evidence otherwise. But pretty much all parents have spent large amounts of time in classrooms and have very clear ideas what should be going on there. Unfortunately they’re at least 10 years out of date.

For that matter, many teachers have spent more class time as a student than they have as a teacher. By the time you’re qualified you’ve spent almost 20 years as a student. Our subconscious expectations of ‘what should happen’ are shaped by what happened to us. Which means they are at least 5 years and possibly decades out of date. That’s a big block to get past.

So there is a tendency for teachers to drift towards the most conservative of their parents’ expectations, at least in their public and professional presentation. How much does that affect our thinking? If you are spending five sevenths of your time dressing, speaking and acting conservatively and archaically, how much does that carry into your planning and programming? My year 12 maths teacher was unquestionably brilliant, but is he still a good model for my teaching? (Actually I think he would be. Mr Wieman was, well, brilliant.)

Unfortunately, teaching should be the absolute cutting edge profession. Progress in every other profession depends on education, and spending time in a classroom that belongs in the past can’t possibly help.

This is one of those philosophical things I don’t think there are easy answers to, it’s something to reflect on. So I have a series of questions that might get you started, the sorts of things I think about:


  • Is your classroom like the ones you grew up in?
  • Do you think your content is up to date?
  • Are you a lifelong learner and are you putting your lessons into practice?
  • How do you use technology in your own life? Do you give your students the same opportunity?
  • Are you becoming more conservative?
  • How has the world changed since you were at school?
  • Do you think your kids’ classrooms are different?
  • Have you thought about what you expect from your kids’ education?
  • Have you taken an opportunity to talk to the school or teachers about it?
  • How do you use technology in your work? How do you use it with your kids?
What do you do to help you move against the inertia?
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