I was talking to someone while waiting for a train the other day (well, to be accurate, I was trying to read my book and they’d decided to make conversation with me). I owned up to being a teacher at some point in the conversation, which was the signal for them to immediately start to share their expertise about teaching with me, based on their experience of explaining a few things to a niece.

Does this happen in other jobs? Do plumbers find people offering insights into pipework, and dentists into root canal treatment? Or is it just us?

I guess almost all of us do have experience teaching something or other to someone or other, and so feel we have some grounds for expertise. But hey, I have some experience cooking, but wouldn’t presume to instruct a chef on it.

Now I may be being a bit of a hypocrite here, because I’ve never been much of a fan of a huge overdose in educational theory as part of teacher training, and I do think some people have the ability to teach pretty well even without being trained to do it.  But that’s a bit different to someone who has never stood in front of a class thinking they have “the answer” to engaging kids, behavioural issues and exam success.  It amazes me how many people do not quite grasp that what you can do with an individual is rather different to what you can do with a class of 20-30 kids, and that you actually cannot teach every child individually.

I’ll tell you the other area on which  Joe (or Jo) Public seems to feel him/herself an instant expert – some parts of science.  Every medical journal out there has shown no link between vaccines and autism – but hey, people who have no medical or scientific training know better! Likewise, the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide is really pretty uncontroversial in scientific circles, but let’s not believe that because we don’t like the consequences, eh?  It’s obviously better to believe every crank out there rather than someone who actually has the appropriate education and has worked to develop their understanding and knowledge to a high level.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to encourage a ridiculous level of deference to experts, be they teachers, scientists, doctors, economists or whatever. We should always encourage critical thinking and a questioning approach.  But at least try to take an informed critical approach!


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