Are we not teachers?
Over the Christmas period of 2013 I, like many people, spent the time with various family members and had to endure the usual rhetoric of how my cousins were wonderful and brilliant and how two of them had been promoted within the schools that work at and how education should be something I should look into, to which I replied "I do work in education, alternative education" this was met with scoffs and general mockery of the outdoor education business of how it wasn`t real education and isn`t recognised officially or paid the same rate as teachers (funny how salary seems to be the be all and end all of a worthwhile job!) which got me thinking, are we not in fact teachers?
After all the industry I work in is called Outdoor EDUCATION, so with a title like that surely a little credit should be given, as it turns out no it isn`t, there is a saying in the teaching industry that "those that can do, those that can`t teach, those that still can`t teach, teach PE" well it seems that there should be another line saying "those that can`t teach PE, do outdoor education" it seems, certainly within the UK, outdoor education is seen as almost a non entity, something which can be mocked and ridiculed but lets look at certain facts.
There are those that say "outdoor education isn`t a real teaching qualification because you don`t need a degree to teach it." this can be true but what about teaching assistants? you don't need a degree to be one of those and for the record I hold a recognised University Degree in guess what...OUTDOOR EDUCATION, I`ll repeat that OUTDOOR EDUCATION, so there are recognised degrees in the subject of OUTDOOR EDUCATION, even if certain people don`t want to realise this. which will probably lead on to the next criticism of "yeah but its a mickey mouse degree like media studies or photography"...pretty thin argument considering both of those degrees are recognised by employers particularly media.
The next argument would probably be "we have to do both a degree and a PGCE to become a teacher" OK not going to deny this, what I will say though is once you have this degree and PGCE, which takes 4-5 years in total, how many times do you have to go back and completely retrain?...for us certain qualifications have to be completely renewed every three years otherwise we can`t instruct it anymore, so by the time you`ve got your teaching degree we`ve already renewed our qualifications twice.
"You don't get paid the same as teachers" again for the majority of us this is true, however there is a good argument for this situation and it was the labour government that brought in the minimum wage law, this law states that everyone has to be paid minimum wage but nothing was put in place saying people have to be paid above minimum wage meaning even if you have the right qualifications, skills and experience, and as outdoor instructors are still not recognised as teachers and therefore classed as "unskilled labour" (a point I will come onto later) we do not have to be paid above minimum wage, again from a personal point of view I am worth a lot more than that, £15000 for uni, £400 for Mountain Leader Training, £400 for Mountain Leader Assessment, £150 for climbing award training, £150 for climbing award assessment, 5 first aid qualifications between £50 and £500 plus countless other awards (archery, air rifles, cycling, high ropes etc) ranging between £100 and £200.
"What do you actually teach though?" little tricky to quantify this one I`ll admit, after all outdoor education instructors don't have a curriculum to go on or results tables to boast about, we do have our own personal results and we can link alot of these back to key stage work, OK our results may show 0 across the board for Maths, English and Science, but when we have a terrified child on the end of climbing rope convinced the it`s going to break and they are going to plummet to their death does this really matter? if however we can give that child confidence to believe that they are perfectly safe and that the rope can hold the weight of a minibus which weighs more than them, 3,500 kg as opposed to 80-90kg (Maths) and to turn around and enjoy the view above Ullswater where Wordsworth wrote Daffodils (English) and that even if they were to slip the friction through the belay device will hold them (Science) does this not teach them something even if its self belief?
“Yes but we teach skills for life”...allow me to answer this with a question, when was the last time you saw a child use algebra outside of a relevant space? or Pythagoras? or having an in depth discussion on the soliloquy within Hamlet? or discuss the application of non Newtonian substances beyond walking on custard?! and how many would actually be able to remember it? however ask the same people about the time they started a fire by doing nothing more than rubbing two sticks together and they`ll remember or the time they learnt to set a bearing on a compass both more or less irrelevant in the modern day for the vast majority of people but then again isn`t algebra… so the real question should be what is a life skill? for most people its all about the soft skills, being able to communicate effectively, work in teams, be effective leaders, take responsibility and organisational skills, skills that are transferable and visible and whilst it may be possible to teach these within a classroom environment, these skills can be taught far more effectively in an outdoor environment, particularly when its pissing it down with rain and everyone wants to get back inside!
“But we embrace alternative education we have a forest school within our school and we go on a outdoor camp every year…” Great! let me ask this though, how many of those teachers that do forest school or go on the school trips actually want to be there? why not get people in that actually enjoy doing these things or would it mean having to admit that we are teachers?
for the next part I will lay down a gauntlet, Outdoor education instructors are seen as unskilled labour, I challenge any teacher without outdoor ed training or experience to plan, prepare and execute an expedition, or to set up a rock climbing and abseiling session or canoe a river without any accidents or near misses, expeditions require a huge amount of planning and I challenge a teacher to sort out routes, access, escape routes, checkpoints, campsites, timings and bearings. when it comes to a climbing session I challenge an untrained teacher to set up a safe climbing system that won`t fail, to tie the correct knots, put the harnesses on right, I also challenge the same teacher to set up a safe but releasable abseil system so that the person abseiling is safe, the teacher is safe and all the lines are safe, trust me it ain`t easy to learn, when it comes to canoeing can an untrained teacher read a river so they know where all the dangers lay? or pick the best route through a section of rapids? oh yes these skills can be picked up but by the time you have done them you wouldn`t class yourself as unskilled anymore and as a final thing to think about, when schools are writing out risk assessments for classrooms are serious considerations given to death? if so by how many means? lets face it little Jimmy sat in the classroom learning Math is very unlikely to have that happen, unless its a freak accident, but the risk assessment for most outdoor activities will have it at some point through a variety of means and what is the best way of minimizing the risk, having competent, qualified and skilled staff…(oops can`t say that we`re not “skilled” after all)
“teachers have to act as in loco parentis, instructors don `t” teachers act as in loco parentis during school hours, instructors are in loco parentis from the second the group arrives to the second it leaves again, 24 hours for up to ten days, how long are the kids at school again?...
Whilst I am not saying teaching is easy, I know it can be bloody hard, I am saying its time for a little bit of recognition and respect to actually come our way, all the arguments above have been said to me at one point or another and I have given the responses back, to which counter agruments have become thinner and thinner until straws have been clutched at, so its time for the education boards to man up, grow some balls and finally admit that we are teachers and lets us take our rightful place but then again they won`t listen to outdoor education instructors because they aren`t teachers are they?