Thou Shalt Not Teach Thine Own Opinions

This is not some technical detail. It’s the basis of the entire mass education system, the social contract of teaching. In the past, wealthy people hired a tutor or governor, someone they could oversee and be sure exactly what their children were being taught. Poor people were grateful for whatever they got.

With mass education, parents no longer have direct control over what their children are taught, so there is an unspoken but very real agreement – teachers will teach what society has agreed upon, and not go off on their own tangent. That’s the entire point of the curricula, frameworks and testing that underpins education systems.

Choosing what teachers are allowed to teach is the reason for private schools – so parents have the option of particular pedagogies or religions. Parents don’t enrol their children in a Montessori school to have a teacher say ‘Sorry, I don’t like that philosophy, I prefer this one.’ Bad luck teacher – you don’t have that option.

And that is true for every single philosophy or opinion that teachers offer in the classroom. As a science teacher I’m sensitive to it, it’s the basis of the creation wars and the reason that science outcomes are very, very carefully written. There are certain things that you may not teach in a science class, except to demonstrate how they are not scientific. As a teacher you can believe anything you want, but the Big Bang, unchanging speed of light, and evolution are not options. If you can’t do that, then you cannot teach science. At all. Ever.

But what about the softer subjects? It’s incredibly easy, even there. You see there are three wonderful little words that need to be an integral part of every teacher’s vocabulary:

“Some people believe … “

Even better if they are followed with options, like

“Others believe …”

Because then we might actually get into comparisons and discussions of why and then even talk about tolerance! What an exciting, and empowering, thing for kids to learn.

This is an absolute pass/fail for any teacher, but it’s especially important in the Territory. You might get away with it when your students believe the same things you do, but the vast majority of students out here don’t share your cultural baggage. Blithely spouting your own beliefs might go against and devalue important beliefs of your students, which is not going to make school an engaging place or you an effective teacher.

It’s a slap in the face for your students and their parents every time you open your mouth – I wouldn’t willingly send my kid to a classroom with such a blinkered teacher, who blatantly fails the very basics of their job. How can I trust them to actually teach anything of worth when they show contempt for their own students and the agreement that is the basis of their employment? How can I trust a school leadership which not only allows, but as far as I can see as a parent, supports and encourages biased treatment and incompetent teaching?

Now the argument could be made that there are some things at such a deep level, such a basic part of your world view, that you don’t realise it’s an opinion and that others view things differently.

No.

While we all stand up at PD days and mouth that we want our students to be life long learners, to be curious and self motivating, that excuse doesn’t cut it.

Teachers are both the obvious result of our education system and its avatars, responsible for perpetuating it. If teachers are so unreflective that they haven’t thought about the differences between the culture they grew up in and the culture of their students, they are failing. If they are so lacking in curiosity that they are unable to use Wikipedia, they are failing. If they are so unmotivated that they can’t even make three little words a habit, they are failing.

Pathetic.

It doesn’t matter whether it is religion, or the value of having a job, or the relative abilities of boys and girls. The only word for a teacher who is failing so miserably and a school that allows them to is pathetic.

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