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Questioning Authority

This post was first published here, on Labour Teachers, on 28th February 2016.

In life there are often many ways to reach a certain place. This is true in all aspects. You can take different routes when you travel to get to the same destination, you can solve trigonometric equations a number of ways, you can take many different routes into becoming a teacher, I’m sure there are plenty of examples from other subjects too.

Recently I was reflecting on the way I teach certain topics, and which method to complete them I think is best. This reflection led to a wider discussion and many of the contributers from that wider discussion stated that they preferred the method that they were taught at school. I found this interesting and it got me thinking about things.

I think there are a lot of instances where I am guilty of this. There are certainly topics that I have a preferred method for completing that stems back to the way I was taught, I’ve often suggested that I feel the PGCE is the best route into teaching – and it’s the route I took. I remember discussing with a friend the make up of exams when I was at uni and professing the belief that I thought a linear course was preferable at GCSE and a modular approach was preferable at A level – perhaps this discussion should have suggested we’d both end up.as maths teachers! There are even examples in wider life when I drive home from a friend who lives near my old school’s house I always take a particular route that passes my parents,  and I think it’s because that’s the route my mum always drove me when I was a kid.

I have questioned all of these ideas to some extent. I now believe that different routes into teaching will suit different people and each has its merits and downsides. I now belive that a linear approach is preferable at GCSE and A level. I’m starting to use a different route from friends house that is actually quicker and my reflections gave led me to begin to question the methods I prefer.

It struck me as a blindingly obvious thing to do, but one that I had missed. I’ve become very good at challenging things I read and critically evaluating new things, it’s something I believe is vital and I’ve written on the topic before. But until recently I’d not thought to question some of the other things that stem from childhood – bizarre, perhaps, as I have questioned and left the religion I was brought up to be part of.

Young people take in things they are told by authority figures as hard truths. When we, as teachers, express the view that method A is preferable for solving trigonometric equations then those in our charge will follow that. We all know this, and often we need to ensure we are presenting an unbiased view on things (although trigonometry probably isn’t one of these…). What we sometimes miss, though, is that some of the things we learned as children may have been the opinion of our teachers,  and we need to critically evaluate those things too.

I intend to reflect on the topics I teach and the methods I prefer to ensure that I am teaching the what my students need to see.

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