“You do what you must do to survive and pass the course. Once you get a job then you can do what you really want to do. Just remember the teacher you want to be while you appear to be the teacher they want you to be.”

This is advice I often give to student teachers when they express concerns about their cooperating teachers (or school-based mentors). I use the same argument when they highlight the gap between what they are learning at university (and what they tell me they want to do) and what they are able to do in school (and what they are allowed to do). I’m not naïve enough to think that similar conversations don’t occur, in reverse, in schools. Either way, while morally – and in the moment – this seems like the right advice to give I wonder if I/we are simply playing a part in prolonging the status quo? 

When I write or talk I do so with the belief that things need to change and we need to prepare our future teachers, in the words of Mary O’Sullivan, to be change leaders. Yet, here am I advocating ‘compliance’ and ‘getting by’ - hardly a rallying cry for change – and this is a problem.

“Do as I say, do as I do even but only so long as it is convenient to do so?” This seems like a message that is at the core of many of the ills in the world. We fundamentally don’t agree with child labour, but we also want cheaper clothes. We want to save the rainforest, but we also need palm oil to make the things we like to have. We want innovative teachers, but they need to get jobs as well and that means bowing to necessity.

Should I be encouraging my students to make waves and stick to what I tell them is best? Or should I go into their school and make waves so they can pass and get a job doing things the way I want them to be done?

In the grand scheme of things, it is about compromise. The idea of holding on to the image or notion of the teacher they want to be is all well and good. Yet, in truth, is it the hope for the future rather than the reality of the moment? Is this why little or nothing changes?

In adopting what Tinning calls a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ our students are only doing what is needed and probably what you and I did. I know I compromised. Early on in my teacher-training course I was asked to comment on the deputy-head of department’s lesson – a skills and drills based lesson where the kids dribbled a ball up through some cones and back down again. I can still see the bag of twenty (ish) balls sat on the side and the one ball per ten or twelve pupils. He asked me what I thought so I told him, and that is when my troubles began. I was reported for my arrogance and give a potentially career-ending warning. Why? Because I decided to say it as I saw it. Big mistake.

You see what I missed was the implicit understanding that he didn’t want to know what I thought but wanted to hear how great a teacher he was. He wanted to be told (reassured even) that I aspired to, one day, be as good as him. Because I didn’t ‘play nicely’ he made my life difficult and, if I am honest, nearly cost me my career before it started. This is my point. After that I’ve often adopted a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ and it wasn’t until I was in a position to challenge what I did and saw that I vocally advocated for change.

Which leads me to my conclusion. How do we change the world if we can’t change the villages that we live in? How can we change the village if we don’t change the world? Should we sacrifice a few young people here and there so we can make change happen? A ‘pedagogy of necessity’ is easy (well easier than one of resistance) so should we simply comply or give more of our efforts to changing what happens in physical education?

The Paper

Writing more than a thirty years ago Tinning begins by indicating his belief that teacher education is implicated in the general failure of education to “envision a world of schooling any different from the present one.” In seeking better social order, Tinning holds that we must find alternatives to the current ways of ‘doing’ education. One of the problems is that the early practices of teachers – student teachers specifically – are conservative and cling to the idea that there is a correct way and an incorrect way to teach (something that is vindicated by their peers and mentors both in school and in university).

The sticking point, so to speak, is that the default position for new teachers seems to be “going with what works” which often involves, Tinning argues, a hunt for “cookbook” knowledge or, as I as interpret, for recipes for success. This is made doubly true when they are given lessons that work and told to stick to ‘the recipe’ if they want to do well. These working lessons (or lessons that work) are provided by cooperating teachers (or mentors) through tradition (these have been used for years), circumstance (that was a good lesson, can I use it with my next class?) and external authority (this is the way to teach this group). They require little in the way of thought or dispute on the behalf of both new and established teachers and are the ‘bread and butter’ of practice. It is doing what is necessary rather than what might be possible, and it fits under the banner of a ‘technical rationality”.

Tinning questions this approach and links it to the wider behaviouristic perspective of teaching. This perspective subscribes to the idea that teachers, to be good teachers, need to develop “specific, observable teaching skills which are assumed (or perhaps known) to relate to pupil learning”. In other words, learn these techniques and you will be a good teacher. Under this technical rationality, however, Tinning argues that the student teacher is seen as “a passive recipient of professional knowledge” – a knowledge that leads directly to effectiveness. Consequently, learning to be a teacher involves modelling cooperating teachers (mentors) practices (even their individual lessons) and this becomes the focus of any school or field experience.

Subsequently, technical skills are seen as the means through which to bring about the desired end rather than teaching (and particularly its evolution and development) being about problematizing what we take for granted. Inherent in this idea, as far as I see it, is the belief that certain technical skills equate to certain learned outcomes. That seems naïve when we consider what students learn as a consequence of these types of lesson. We need to problematize the taken for granted ‘truth’ that learning occurs (what I will equate to the desired end) and consider that education is complex and uncertain, unstable and unique, and not a vehicle for problem solving. We need to move away from a baseline of “if it works in practice” i.e. a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ and move, as Tinning suggests, to a ‘pedagogy of possibility’.

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- ThinkActChange (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something, or are looking for help, then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Tinning, R.I. (1988) Student teaching and the pedagogy of necessity. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 7: 82-89.