Knowledge is not enough

July 16, 2009

I wonder if Thomas Docherty has any first-hand experience of apprenticeships ("To provide teaching of quality, we must get back to our roots", 9 July). Far from being characterised by mutual respect, my own experience was characterised by benign indifference punctuated by bouts of bullying, a not-uncommon experience. When I was "set free", I took the first opportunity to quit the trade.

Later, as an undergraduate in those prelapsarian days when no one thought it worth training university lecturers to teach, I experienced some inspiring teachers and some who were truly awful. As students we had little say in what we learnt or how we were expected to learn it, while the tyranny of finals did little to blur the distinction between teachers and learners. But according to Docherty this cannot be, since the rot set in only with the advent of the publicly funded teacher accreditation industry.

I confess to being one of those guilty of the crime of "damaging the community of free thought" by suggesting that having a good knowledge of one's discipline might not always be enough when it comes to teaching students. Furthermore, I confess that I am interested in helping colleagues improve the quality of their teaching, but I can't see how that makes me a slave to the quality agenda: I always thought that helping people improve was a central tenet of teaching.

I don't think that the course I run is perfect, nor do I delude myself into believing that all participants undergo the same rich experience, but I know from the feedback I receive that what we do makes a difference. Those taking my course hail from different disciplines and yet they are able to work together, share knowledge and become better teachers. There is much to be said for interdisciplinary learning - a point Docherty's archetype Giambattista Vico would have recognised.

Philip Long, Faculty of education, Anglia Ruskin University.

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