Suitable to be a teacher?

Extremist views are in the news again… tragically.

Should teachers be allowed to members of extreme political parties or even hold extreme political or religious views?

Recently a student teacher was discussing this issue with me. She said she couldn’t see how anyone with extreme political views could be relied upon to uphold the values that were expected from a profession that had a duty to promote equality and respect diversity.

I have often challenged students to consider whether they can separate personal beliefs from professional values.  Most readily accept that they can and should, especially where those beliefs are kept private and not brought in to the professional domain. Theoretically at least.

So I challenged her.

She responded: “I just don’t think that someone who for example, denies the evidence of the Jewish Holocaust is suitable to teach a subject like history.  For that matter, can someone who believes the world was created in seven days be suitable to teach science? I don’t think so.”

While other students have expressed similar reservations many times before, what struck me here was the use of the word suitable.

Professional misconduct and incompetence can be defined and specified but it struck me that unsuitability is a very much more a value judgment.

Obviously, some people are not suitable to be teachers – those deemed to be unsafe to work with children are indisputably in that category.

There are a lot of people who would not be suitable as teachers for perfectly forgivable reasons. Not everyone has a personality robust enough to meet the emotional and psychological challenges of working with children. Teaching especially in very challenging contexts, is not for the faint hearted.

But to say someone is unsuitable to be a teacher because the belief they hold privately may be at odds with the content of a syllabus or the subject matter of a curriculum came as a strong challenge to my thinking.

And now I’m wondering where this logic might lead.  A ‘fat’ teacher unsuitable to teach PE? A smoking teacher unsuitable to teach about health? A teacher with a ‘minor conviction’ unsuitable to teach citizenship?

Misconduct – yes. Incompetence – yes. But unsuitability…?

How do you define that?

My thanks to Sarah at the University of Winchester for the challenge she has set me and for inspiring the writing of this blog.

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3 thoughts on “Suitable to be a teacher?

  1. I think it all depends on what those views are to be honest. For example can someone with extremist religous views about all non-believers going to hell really be safe to work with children? – No. But if we use the example of: ‘ can someone who believes the world was created in seven days be suitable to teach science?’ – Yes, I think they can. There are many things that we don’t have to personally believe in in order to teach- for example religous education. Not all teachers believe in all faiths, but still have to teach the children about these. It all comes down to attitudes that are safe to have when working with children- and thsoe that aren’t safe.

    1. Thanks Miriam. Interesting stuff – but I’m struck by your use of the phrase “attitudes that are safe to have when working with children” and it makes me realise how they change from time to time as well as from one society to another. It brings me back to thinking about another blog I have here on “Are the values of teaching universal?”. Thanks very much for your post.

    2. This issue seems to be caught in a far-left paradigm. I would contend that some political views which don’t chime with the NUT are regarded as unacceptable. I was recently shocked to be told by the assistant head of a school I work at that she thought “monochrome-white, chavvy” classrooms outside London were “disgusting” and a small circle of fellow socialists all nodded in agreement… how would similar comments have been received if they had been in reference to a classroom full of Asian children?

      Holocaust denial is an EXTREME example and typical of the sort of extreme examples used to intimidate anyone who dares maintain a different point of view on a number of mainly social or political matters. I have heard members of the ATL (a union that doesn’t strike) referred to as “fascists”. Now it doesn’t take a history professor to tell you that ATL members are NOT fascists, they are just people who don’t subscribe to the left agenda pushed by the NUT and the NASUWT. Another example of political views being brought into school being tolerated if they are leftwing (but not if rightwing) can be found in history teaching.

      At a school I used to work at the syllabus in history they had settled on concentrated mainly on the United States for years 9-11. But everything was slanted and given in such a way so as to present everything “white” America has ever done to be negative. We had the slave trade, civil rights movement, the settlement of the American West, Vietnam, assassination of JFK and all the rest of it.

      Presented like that in a school with a large Muslim majority paints a very unbalanced picture and is damaging to children, in my view, about as much as creationists do because, after all, children taught “creation” at school can still find the truth outside school just like children taught everything Britain and America stand for is wrong or evil can similarly find their own sources of information. Any attempt to restrict freedoms of thought, conscience or association is wrong.

      Teachers should not be under pressure to conform to any particular philosophy so long as they teach effectively.

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