A teacher is a teacher. Kids have friends; they don’t want you to be their friend. They have uncles, aunts and older brothers. None of that will do. It is simpler for a teacher to concentrate on what Michael Marland called the craft of the classroom. It is simpler for a teacher to concentrate first and foremost on being a good teacher.
What that means is plain: understanding the subject matter, communicating it clearly; ensuring that disruption does not ruin classes for those who want to learn; good feedback; clear criteria; a welcoming space.
You are groaning already. “Wait a minute,” you are saying. “You said we were going to talk about qualities of teachers in democratic schools. You said we were going to look at the unique skills and abilities needed to make democratic schools work. But you started with two paragraphs that could have come out of a teacher training handbook.
“That is so state school!”
Yes, my friends. I fear it is. I cannot honestly say I believe any of the qualities I am going to mention in the next part of this post will compensate for being a crap teacher. What do I mean by being a crap teacher? This: over-friendly, avuncular, creepy; ignorant, confused and lacking control; giving muddled messages, disorganized and messy. But if you can turn that little lot around and get your teaching act in order first, then we can start to talk.
Beyond the Classroom
So, with the necessary prequel that you need to be a halfway decent teacher to start with, here is my list of what it takes to be a good teacher beyond the classroom:
- Accept that kids will not come to your lovely lessons. Don’t take it personally. Don’t invent ways to seduce them into your classroom by changing the subject matter. Be prepared to hang out and drink coffee.
- Work beyond the classroom. Don’t just shuffle between the staffroom, the classroom and your car. Get out there and do something else. No, you don’t have to run it or be in charge- this is a democratic school, after all- but there is no reason you can’t help in the kitchen, at the pool or with games.
- Don’t focus all of your activity through the lens of examination board requirements, syllabus structures or textbooks levels. Lighten up. Is there a way to open your subject to fun, exploration and genuine interest? Don’t close that door because you are anxious about examinations. Don’t change the subject matter (see point 1) but give yourself some time on your timetable to open it up in different ways.
- Be prepared to hang out on your own. I think it would be a better education for a lot of kids just to see adults reading, writing or performing for themselves. Don’t make your life revolve around the kids you are teaching.
- Be a spectator. Be one of the crowd. When there is music, theatre, dance or sport, be one of the ones clapping. If you feel you always have to be the one in the limelight you may have a problem.
- Play a role in the Meeting, on committees and with your fellow staff. Get involved with the many dimensions of life in a democratic school that take place outside the classroom: litter pick up, supervising a work fine, playing games, hanging out.
- Talk and listen. It’s always easier to talk than to listen, but you can’t do either if you are not there. Don’t shuffle off to your room and close yourself into your books. Be a face. Be a person.
Beyond the Classroom, Not Another Classroom
When I was a kid I didn’t care that much about adults. I had my world and they had theirs. The classroom was the arena in which our unequal worlds met with the curriculum as the justification for every interaction. More contact outside the classroom can reduce the importance of the curriculum and puff up the importance of personality. So, here, to finish are some warnings about what not to look for in a democratic school teacher:
- A teacher who can’t stop measuring and assessing.
- An adult who wants to hang around with kids as though they were his friends. This is just messed up. Kids can find their own friends and, if they can’t, an adult is not a good substitute.
- A crusader. Teaching at school level is not that complicated. There is no need to turn it into a crusade: who does that serve? Not the kids in the school for certain.
- A teacher who won’t do anything beyond the job description.