Ashley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading. Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading. He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature. @AshleyPearce84
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it was claimed that to become an expert in something took 10,000 hours of practice. He used examples from sports, arts and music alongside various professions. This 10,000 claim was questioned somewhat by the origin of this theory Anders Ericson from the University of Colorado, who said that it was an average and based on violin playing. But the broad premise still stood, practice makes perfect. Many communities across the globe still have a village elder, who imparts knowledge and advice to younger members of the society as they’ve seen and experienced it all before. At Japanese car firm Toyota, experienced staff in their final year before retirement go across different departments to share the knowledge they have accrued over the years. So what’s my point? Well, it seems to me that in many schools there is a race to leave the classroom or progress as quickly as possible. Now there is nothing wrong with ambition, and experience does not necessarily make a better candidate for roles. But why the rush to leave the wonderful job and opportunity we have to enhance the lives of young people in the classroom?
My last article for Labour teachers was entitled “For the love of teaching” that extolled the many positives we get from being in this wonderful profession. I thought about this recently when I overheard a man in my local pub who is a teacher and a similar age to me say “I’m bored of teaching, I’d like a job advising the Government on education policy”. Now I don’t know this man’s circumstances and being a Government policy advisor is a fine job to have ambition for. But it made me a bit sad that someone that could barely have been teaching ten years thought that was it, done with the classroom. Surely with the recruitment and retention crisis in schools we need as many of our teachers in classrooms as possible. It also made me think about the cult of inexperience in teaching and maybe the wider world. Again, this is not to say many younger (or inexperienced) people do not have a huge amount to offer or are the right people for any particular job but let’s remember the village elder lessons. After the 2010 general election the 3 main parties leaders were all younger (for politicians) white males. They even pretty much looked the same. Now, we have 3 major leaders above 60 years of age. At the last election I think we were all surprised at the Labour parties performance but I was more surprised at the shock of people that Jeremy Corbyn was a component public performer. He has been doing it for over 30 years, surely this means something?
I suppose the point I am trying to make is threefold, don’t rush out of the classroom, seek improvement, and use all of this knowledge and experience in schools.
There should be no rush out of the classroom. Enjoy it, the inspiring of students, the creativity, the interactions. It may not take 10,000 hours but become an expert in your field.
There are also countless ways to improve and enjoy classroom practice. Watch colleagues, become an examiner, read teaching books, visit other schools. All of these can help teachers improve as practitioners and rediscover our passion for the classroom.
I am lucky that I am good friends with two of my old teachers, and a retired ex colleague of mine. I would be mad not to use this pool of nearly 100 years of experience when I need advice. They have experienced countless situations over the years and dealt with it. This doesn’t mean a younger, fresher pair of eyes doesn’t have a valid view but experience should still be counted on.
I believe that schools should be doing all that they can to keep their best teachers teaching in the classroom, and that experience isn’t overlooked.