The longer I’ve been in the field of education the more I’ve come to realise that ‘wars’ are going on between the pedagogical and philosophical camps of how students learn and how teachers should be expected to teach. Unfortunately students may become the ‘casualties of war’ as the debate ‘soldiers’ on!

Maybe the question should not be whether teachers should use this particular pedagogy or follow this particular teaching philosophy but the question should be,

‘What works for this particular child?’. I wonder whether an exploration into how doctors treat patients may help us, as we consider how teachers should be prepared to meet the needs of all the students in their classrooms? Maybe the analogy doesn’t always hold up but consider the following parallels:

KNOW your patient, KNOW your treatment options

Doctors need to really know their patients, their symptoms and a variety of treatments. They need to have confidence to make a professional judgement call on which treatment to apply to which patient. Teachers need to know their students, know their subject content and know a variety of pedagogical methods. Teachers should also be encouraged to be ‘professionals’ who continue to learn the best ‘treatments’ and know when to apply them and with whom…

We would be frustrated if a medical doctor was pedantic about a particular treatment and failed to take into account the complexity of the patient’s needs. We should be equally concerned when a teacher (or school) applies a particular methodology just because it is the only one they know or the only one they believe in!

Assessment of progress is vital

We expect our medical doctors to stay up to date with the latest research and to recommend the most effective treatments. Similarly, teachers should know the research of what pedagogical method is most likely to work for which students.

While we don’t expect all teachers to be continual researchers of academic journals and university textbooks, although that may well be commendable, we do need teachers to remain responsive to the effectiveness of their chosen teaching method. For example, when doctors apply a particular treatment they will generally reassess, to determine if the patient is improving in health.

If the treatment is not working it will be modified or even abandoned. We expect doctors to remain responsive to what the patient’s ‘data’ is telling them. Equally, teachers need to be responsive to whether their students are progressing.

Expect improvement for everyone

On the matter of progress, teachers should expect progress of all students. We wouldn’t allow a doctor to ‘give up’ on some patients, nor would we allow them to say they were pleased with minimal progress, especially if significant progress was possible …

We want our doctors to use treatments that are effective. We certainly wouldn’t allow a doctor the excuse that patients from a particular background or disability are beyond assistance.

We also need our teachers to believe that despite a student’s background or disability or difficulty there are teaching methods that could help that student progress in their learning.

Despite the difficulties all deserve treatment

Maybe it’s difficult to continue the analogy between medicine and education when students sabotage their own learning by their own behaviour, choices etc. yet even patients who cause their own illnesses or injuries are expected to receive the best medical treatment available. As much as doctors may sometimes rather not work with a particular patient they haven’t got that option. Doctors are under oath to provide medical care for all in need.

Teachers need to keep looking for what works, even for those students who are ‘resistant to treatment’…

A Hippocratic Oath for Teachers…

Maybe our teacher graduation ceremonies could have an oath similar to the

Hippocratic oath? Here’s what it may look like …

  • I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those teachers

 and educational researchers in whose steps I walk,

 and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

  • I will apply, for the benefit of the students I teach,

 all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and pessimism.

  • I will remember that there is art to education as well

 as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh any particular method.

  • I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,”

 nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a students’ education.

  • I will respect the privacy of my students,

  for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.

 Most especially must I tread with care in matters of their education.

 It is given me to educate them all .

  • I will remember that I do not teach just a subject, but a human being,

  whose education may affect their future health and finances.

  • I will prevent difficulties whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

My wish is that a truce is called and that students become the winners of the amnesty!

Call to Action

I’m doing what I can to help ALL students and to prevent difficulties (casualties!) particularly in the area of Maths teaching and learning, by working with educators in the ‘front line’… ie. primary teachers. I’m trying to stay out of the ‘wars’ and just help teachers get started on practices that have proven highly effective and help them find ways to identify who is making progress and who isn’t..? If you need help with ‘treatments’ and you don’t want any student to be a ‘casualty of war’ feel free to contact me through Lynz Education and see what assistance is available.