Why teachers tend to get stuck

When I did my MEd last year, I read a few books.  Yes, real books; not on a tablet, not on Google Scholar.  Old books with fraying spines and yellow, musty pages.  I almost sheepishly used the neglected self-serve scanners in the foyer so I could take them home.

I found the work of Donald Schön (1991) compelling where he made the case that to develop true expertise we need to reframe – that is to see beyond one’s own habits and comfortable understanding, and view one’s practice objectively.

But Dan Lortie (1975) suggested that this is particularly challenging for teachers as they bring to the profession an individual internal perception of practice he called an “apprenticeship of observation” based on the estimated 13,000 hours of teaching they had witnessed as a student themselves.

I think it is this factor that empowers parents, politicians and journalists to comment and interfere in our profession in a way that they would never dream of doing to doctors and engineers, for example.

The “apprenticeship of observation” gives teachers a familiarity with the tasks of teaching and a relatively sophisticated identification of the characteristics of a good teacher (Batten, 1993), but being internal and subconscious, it fails to “lay the basis for informed assessment of teaching technique or encourage the development of analytic orientation towards the work.”  (Lortie, 1975, p. 67).

In summary: teachers get stuck and we are more vulnerable to it than other professions.

Knowing this, I try extra hard to counter my subconscious and stay open to new ideas, to stop and question what I do; but I know that when I am busy and tired I do naturally revert back to the practices that I observed.

There is a reassuring message though: if we can override our instinct to stay the same and change our teaching for the better, our legacy will enhance the perceptions of practice of the next generations of teachers.

Who, I hope, will still borrow books.



Batten, M. (1993). Students’ Perceptions of Effective Teaching. In M. Batten, P. Marland, & M. Khamis (Eds.), Knowing how to teach well : teachers reflect on their classroom practice. Hawthorn, Vic.: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Schön, D. A. (1991). The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action. Aldershot, England: Arena.


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