Sing-Song Pedagogy: It hides all manner of sins

Yesterday, on the 16th February, the Chartered College of Teaching (CCT) held its inaugural conference in London called ‘A collective voice’ with the aim of introducing the CCT and providing ‘an open forum of discussion and interaction on a variety of teaching matters’, according to its website. Whilst I was unable attend the conference, my twitter feed was bombarded with running commentaries from the teachers and educators that could afford the “Founding Member” membership fee. Unfortunately, I could not and thus I had to watch from afar.

Indeed, much of event seemed like a success. The first keynote speaker – Rt. Hon. Justine Greening MP – largely impressed the crowds of eager professionals as she promised to save QTS from being scrapped and argued that teachers are the drivers of social mobility, even suggesting that the our profession needs – and deserves – a higher status. Moreover, Professor Rob Coe’s rallying cry to abandon the progressive/traditional debate and rather support a vision for enhanced professionalism within teaching also seemed to go down well. Myself and many others were particularly impressed by the all-female panel discussion, highlighting CCT’s enthusiasm for social equality and egalitarianism. Yay.

Regardless of how interesting and provocative these speeches were, the image that I have cemented in my head is of a short fourteen second clip showing a room of teachers poorly singing “I’ll be there”, which allegedly lead to a massage session. My concern with this was not that a room full of professionals were chanting and rubbing one another, as perverse as that sounds, but actually something much more significant.

First, the singing was a poor attempt at addressing the crisis of teacher wellbeing. The average career span for a teacher is no more than five years, meaning that teaching is now not actually a career at all. With this, I have worked with colleagues who have burnt out in their first terms of teaching because of poor behaviour (both the annoying low level stuff and actual full on violence), because of enormous and frankly ludicrous workloads, because wellness and self-love simply isn’t taught sufficiently at teacher training, and because schemes of work and properly rigorous and in-depth curricula have not been put in place from above. Teachers are taught to be so selfless that they actually become worthless, unnecessarily slogging away. This is a crisis that needs addressing immediately and a forced choir recital comes off as patronising and thinly-veiled rather than a genuine cause to a crushing problem.

Secondly, because teachers don’t stay in teaching, there is also a crisis of retention. As a teacher and member of steering committees at Teach First (called Action Networks), I have worked with many talented individuals to build teacher retention but also ensure that top graduates enter the profession, especially in schools with low socio-economic contexts, where their impact would be the largest and is most needed. I strongly believe that a massive part of promoting proper teacher retention is enhancing the status of the profession and a group sing-song categorically works against this. One wouldn’t go to a national conference of brain surgeons, aerospace engineers or theoretical physicists and have a quick karaoke session, yet you do with a conference of teachers. This is something that not only detracts top professionals from teaching but is actually dangerous to the profession as a whole. It looks as if we have bought into another gimmick, that we are scratching the surface of hugely widespread problems once again, and that we are all happy together even though we’re crumbling from within.

So, by all means, slap a smile on your face, have sing-song and pretend that everything is hunky-dory, but excuse me if I don’t join in.


NB: I appreciate that the singing will not go ahead at CCT’s next conference but my concern is about what the singing represents (or attempts to fix) rather than the activity itself.