Yesterday was busy. It was late, and I was tired as I arrived at Paddington some 7 or 8 minutes before my train left. Noting that there was to be a ‘travelling chef’ on the train I decided against buying sandwiches at the station, and take my chance with the buffet.
The only hot food left was a cheeseburger which, the young and apologetic ‘travelling chef’ expressed, was now half price as it was the last journey she would make that evening. Ordering a beer as she popped the pre-prepared burger into the microwave the chef grinned: “Not much of a supper that – it’s not what I will give my man later on”.
As I returned to my seat and gingerly bit into an over-hot, rather plastic version of what I might have eaten at Scout Camp many years ago, I was forcefully reminded of an astute comment made by a 15-year-old Canadian girl recently as she described the limitation of modern teaching methods. “The trouble with you teachers is that you regard teaching like a pre-packaged television dinner. You expect us to go to the deepfreeze, pull out a package, read the instructions and peel off the plastic wrapping and put it into the microwave. You watch to make sure that we read the instructions carefully and set the microwave at the right temperature and for the right length of time. When the pinger goes and it comes out you look over our shoulders and say ‘That was good – you get 10 out of 10’”.
“Such an approach to schooling means nothing to us at all”, the Canadian girl had continued, “we would far prefer to invent the recipe for ourselves, go out and find the ingredients and work out how to mix them in the best way to produce something edible. It might not look quite as professional as the pre-packaged meal, but even if you only gave us 3 out of 10 for doing it, we would feel a great sense of achievement. By giving us 10 out of 10 for something that doesn’t really matter to us leaves us feeling that schooling is vacuous.”
Leaving most of the cheeseburger uneaten, I sipped the rest of my beer as the words of the travelling chef came back to me: “Not much of a supper that – it’s not what I would give my man”. And that is exactly what many of today’s teachers feel as, exhausted by the sheer boredom and pressure of daily routines and preparing pre-packaged lessons, they resign in frustration from the teaching profession. It is a terrible shame. It wasn’t that the ingredients in that cheeseburger were wrong, any more than it is that the ideas which are to be found in a school curriculum are wrong, it was just that they hadn’t been combined together in a way that satisfied my hunger, or – mixing metaphors – fulfilled a child’s need to work things out for itself. And by pretending that this was a proper meal could never give job satisfaction to a so-called travelling chef.