Reflections on the pedagogic soul


In my early years of teaching adult literacies, I made a Frierean pact. A pact that has required me to relinquish all hope of liberalism. So lost am I that I can see nothing to gain from a discussion which weighs up the possibilities of an education that is in some way neutral, balanced or objective. On this point I agree with Dr Henry Tam.

I think it misleading to suggest that neutrality is an acceptable counterbalance to bias; or that a continuum ending in honesty, in authenticity, in solidarity offsets betrayal.

Post 16 Teachers have ethical obligations that not only define the way they work – for many – they underpin their reasons for wanting to teach. Their professional modus vivendi is based on an ethical project.  The erstwhile LLUK professional standards provide some indication of what this project might be. Soon to be abandoned, the standards are encoded within the Further Education, Post Graduate Certificate in Education learning outcomes. Trainees are required to:

  • explore and evaluate potential connections between learning and the wider social, political and economic contexts;
  • or evaluate the complexity of the interaction between learning, learner and context.

There are several ways in which these outcomes might be interpreted. Whatever inflection is placed upon them, inviting a student to explore connections – assumes that those connections exist and are worthy of exploration. The same is true with the invitation to evaluate complex interconnections. The economic imperative – which usually subsumes all other purposes for education – is tempered here. It is neatly contained between the social and the political. What these outcomes also suggest, implicitly at least – is a situated pedagogy. A pedagogy that is deeply contextual, spatial and critical: a critical pedagogy of place (Gruenewald 2003).

Developing a critical pedagogy of place means challenging each other to read the texts of our own lives and to ask constantly what needs to be transformed and what needs to be conserved.

This doesn’t imply an introspective, self-referenced reflexive professionalism: it is rather an outcome that insists on the personal and the professional as political projects.

We’re used to analyzing this with regards to students.  But, what might it imply for teachers?

Post 16 Education relies on the willingness of teachers to work unpaid. In my experience teaching is intensely hard work. It requires diligence, creativity and determination. I have recently undertaken a series of interviews for a small-scale, minimally funded, collaborative research project: ‘Portraits of Authenticity’. Our enquiry is based on wanting to find out more about how recently qualified Post 16 Teachers are faring in the workplace. With colleagues from the University Centre Doncaster, University Centre Grimsby and Bishop Burton College – we have spoken with teachers who are determined to support their students as much as they possibly can; typically they echo the insistence  that ‘Nothing will prevent me from doing good job’ (Hillier 2007). All struggle with paperwork, wondering whether ‘Not doing all the paper work for my students’ makes them a bad teacher. They comply – albeit reluctantly – with audit requirements, translating the learning goals their students struggle to articulate into industrialised SMART targets.

All of this is very familiar. The trouble is, I wonder at what point do we question the what and why of our own behaviour. Teachers and teacher educators are to some extent complicit in this exploitation; we willingly give our surplus labour to the corporation.   It is not unusual for programme teams to operate with two instead of three members of staff while the corporation saves money by delaying the appointment of a vacant post. They accept a workload model that allows forty-five minutes for what is actually a two-hour job simply because there seems to be little other choice.

Trainees and teacher educators explore and evaluate the connections between learning, learner and context. But how far do we develop an explicitly politicized curriculum that elaborates upon the domains of power that envelop our selves and our trainees. And what frames of reference support this.  I’d like to think that this kind of analysis might reasonably take the form a critical ontology of ourselves.

A critical ontology that explores:

  • the domain of truth: through which we are constituted as objects and subjects of knowledge;
  • the domain of power:  in which we are constituted as subjects acting on others and acted upon by others;
  • the domain of ethics or ‘individual conduct’: through which we constitute ourselves as particular types of subjects.

(Foucault, 1984/1988)



  1. Thanks for this. I too feel that as a teacher educator I have to accept that I am preparing my student teachers for what is a ‘ready-made world’. If I adopt critical stances with regard to neoliberal hegemonic regimes I risk providing my students with a language of resistance and transgression that may set them against the prevailing culture of compliance in many colleges. Should they secure a job will they keep it? If I simply teach to the standards, supporting them to become a ‘grade 1’ I am failing in my responsibility to reveal the domains of truth, power and ethics in the context of FE. I doubt that there is a resolution to this paradox, except for me to observe and reflect, using my own pedagogic creed (after Dewey) to sustain my teaching.

    • Hi StuffAliKnows,

      This is a dilemma! But I am not sure it fits an ‘either / or’. We have to work with trainees – for their / our professional survival – to understand what outstanding teaching means within the (most recent) common inspection framework. We need to be able to develop capacity to deliver ubiquitously perfect practice. Uppity, transgressive teachers don’t last long.

      But for the survival of their soul, we have to explore what quality means in education and why teachers are held to account in this particular way. Outstanding teaching is a local, situated, policy defined truth. I’m playing with an idea that doesn’t have a clearly defined shape. It might make more (some) sense after a few laps on the treadmill.

      And of course we can only have that discussion with trainees once they’ve completed everything else.

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