Dear members, colleagues and friends,

When I started teaching, there was no Internet, no mobile phones, no email! Of course I am not alone, there are plenty of teachers who started way back when and are still doing a great job. What did we do for materials? Well, other than using a course book directly (which I resisted), we made our own. We worked out what our learners needed and then we created the material. If we were lucky, we were working in an atmosphere of common support, so together we built up resources, adapting and changing them as well worked.

It seems to me that today, 40 years on, teachers are battered and flooded with materials, some quite good but many of them of a very poor standard indeed, containing errors of language, inauthentic or zero context and out-dated pedagogy. It seems to me that the huge proliferation of substandard materials thrust at us is evidence of a growing difficulty to distinguish between pedagogically sound materials and those which have bells and whistles attached obscuring the poverty of substance.

How often I see young teachers in Facebook groups asking how to teach ‘x’ or where they can find materials to teach ‘y’. I have stopped responding because I realise that I am coming from a different place – a place where such questions are simply very rare because one works it out and one creates!

I well recall my shock when delivering initial teacher training programmes and trainee teachers would comment that they’d been up all night or at least very late; when questioned, it often transpired they’d been searching the net for a perfect picture of the Eiffel Tower (or similar). How fast can you sketch a recognisable Eiffel Tower?

The lovely Terry Tomscha, who worked with me briefly on that initial teacher training course, argued that trainees on my course should be exposed to published materials more than they were since the authors “knew more about materials than trainee teachers,” which is self-evidently true, but I held that trainees could and should develop their own skills of materials production! Trainees did of course have access to course and resource books but my focus was always to get them examining published materials critically while asking themselves if they could do better.

If all this sounds somewhat elitist, I apologise. But I know just how rewarding it is to develop one’s own creative skills and abilities as well as recognising how to exploit existing materials in new and interesting ways, beyond what the authors intended.

On another note, where I live, we have gone from -20 a few months ago to +40! It makes me wonder how nature survives but of course it does; even one of our fig saplings which appeared to have been killed by the cold winter is now flourishing.

I hope you are also flourishing.

Happy teaching and learning

August 2017
Steve Hirschhorn
Chair of Gallery Teachers Membership Committee.