it’s the environment

Notes on interview with MS

I ask him about his approach to teaching his group. The question perhaps reflects my desire to get him talking about literacy in general terms, or at least his literacy pedagogy. To articulate his ideas about what he doing –as a teacher. We take a few tries to get to what I want to explore with him.

At first he turns to the assignment. But I want him to talk in general terms first and then relate his ideas about teaching to the task.

He then turns to the composition of the group. He describes his teaching as ‘fluid’. By this he means he has students who come in and out because of all sorts of problem. Despite the closed coercive environment he teaches in. This is an enclosed community.

Something strikes me listening to this teacher. He is an experienced teacher who has taught for 10 years. He has worked in a difficult situation – a harsh environment for all of that time. He expresses a degree of disappointment and anxiety about aging. He is in his late 40s early 50s. He refers to his clock ticking. At his age I feel younger. I am at the start of a career and feel that this was the right time (in terms of my personal biography) to make the shift.
He feels otherwise.

There is no sense of what drives him. I do not ask the question and he does not hint at any commitment to equity and social justice as his motivation for teaching. He started teaching with skills for life. And I am interested in the extent to which he is able to critique the associated pedagogic approach.

I listen to my interview style. It is not really an interview. Part tutorial in which I question him.

So, in analysing his overall approach to his teaching – he describes:

Unfortunately the main theme is getting them through the exams. That’s the focus that they’re putting on us.  It doesn’t sound right, but teaching them to pass the exams almost like a sausage factory. And that’s the, eh – that’s ….not that I like it, that’s the environment …. cos the funding is gonna … I think what they’re doing, the funding is gonna change … they’ll only get funding for good passes.  So the main focus is on trying to get them to exam level as soon as possible. And focussing on only what they don’t know. It’s not right. And it’s not what good teaching is necessarily about.
He then starts to talk about the assignment – mainly his critique of assessment tools.

Two things strike me.

The first was the fear expressed by some that once the SfL as policy infrastructure has taken hold, newer teachers who had not experienced alternative pedagogic paradigms would not have the resources to draw upon to critique the regime and would accept it as normal and legitimate. While MS has no radical agenda, he is able to identify the short comings of the regime he adheres to and the implications for his teaching.

The other thing that strikes me, is the change in his speech as we move towards some form of critique.
When he starts to talk about the environment he works in – by his he means the demands placed upon him by his employers to get students through the exam –  he falters. He pauses. Thinks about what he has to say, repeats himself and stops and starts different sentences with some thoughts remaining unfinished. This is noticeably different to his style of speech so far. .

I ask MS about how his approach squares with the discussions we have had in training sessions.  My questions are long, rambling and complicated.
It doesn’t always fit in. It’s great theory and it’s good. You know, we’ve talked about how to contextualise it and the wheel, all of that.  It was very refreshing. But my mentor, all she’s interested in is, oh, he failed, can we get him back in. Not, ‘Can we develop this individual?’ Can we get him back in? What do you think he failed on? And that’s the environment we’re in. And with the contracts coming up for renewal.
AS methodology – I am struck by my presence in the encounter. Struck by the how much – as tutorial and interviewer – I fill in gaps in his speech, we overlap and I complete partial thoughts.  At times I want to suggest I should be quiet and let him speak more. That actually eh would find his focus and his ideas would be more fully expressed if I allowed the conversation to role.

I think I need to explore the nature of this data more carefully. I am comfortable in accepting that it is what it is. 


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