Tim Cornwall

An evening with Chris Thatcher

Education begins with understanding

Chris Thatcher a well-respected educator and education consultant to international schools, former President of the UK National Association of Head Teachers, and former S.E. Asia Education Development Director of Cambridge Education came to TEN to share his thoughts, reminiscences, and some pearls of wisdom with fellow educators this July at the Roadhouse Barbecue.

When I first met the man, he seemed an austere figure and I felt a bit hesitant to casually chitchat with him. Perception, mine especially, is such a fickle thing. As he spoke, I came to realize that here was an extremely clever man who cared.
• He cared about seeing that education was well rounded and tailored to the student.
• He cared about seeing that this was shared broadly abroad.
• Most of all he cared about the well-being of a child first and foremost before their education.

He was talking my language, had my complete attention and was articulating many of my thoughts as I only wish I could.

Chris' father was a teacher. He was one of the many trained through the Emergency Training Scheme of 1947 when Britannia was shedding an empire and rebuilding the home country. At that time, classes were based on ability and within each class and those with the best grades sat at the back and those with the worst sat at the front.

Many had a predetermined education, just as Chris did with his mum deciding that he would be a dentist when he was only a child. As we know now, that was not to last. He got into teaching as many have because he needed a job. He was an untrained teacher, but had an inspirational Head Master that showed him how to care first and teach second. Isn't it odd how many of us end up walking in our father's footsteps whether we intended to or not.

As his inspiring mentor showed him, Chris related that education is half the art of communication and half knowing what you are going to do. It does not sound so complicated and it is not. Yet we adults somehow manage to make the simplest of things very complicated at times.

It also begins with empathy encompassing care, compassion, concern, understanding and sympathy. We should question the why of a child's behavior rather than responding to their actions. Then our response should always be with an open heart.

While Chris reviewed the past sixty years of education in the UK, as only an expert can. After listening to him for some time, I could pin down what was wrong with education in the UK to six key points:

1. Standards
2. Testing
3. Standards
4. Testing
5. Standards
6. Testing

I realize that there are really only two main points, but those two seemed so BIG, I felt I ought to repeat them a couple of times. Since the Butler Education Act established primary education as law in 1944 there have been at least twenty enquiries, reports, manifestos, white papers, and reviews of education, most of them in the past 20 or so years. Every one of them seemed to come with a new style of testing.

At the same time, they were looking to see if students were maintaining standards. Someone forgot to tell the governments that a standard that that keeps changing, well, it is not actually a standard. However, that is what happens when you gag Ministers of Education and political dogma becomes more important than a child's education. As an example, the National Curriculum of 1964 was meant to be good for all, but was a disaster.

It did not take students environment into account. The league table for schools had hundreds of attainment targets in 10 different subjects. It looked like everyone has to put their two pence in. How anyone was supposed to keep track of it all is beyond me.

What I learned from Chris is that it comes down to this:

Some things you cannot measure.

How can you evaluate a child's ability to lead a group or interact socially in a test? What if a child is having a difficult time at home and does poorly on a test that the school will use to place him or her for the next four years? Assessment is vital but as has been shown in the past 66 years in the U.K., testing to standards can go wrong.

A teacher needs to know and care about all of her or his students, be aware of their strengths and areas with room for more growth. However, most of all a teacher needs to have a big open heart for the children in their care.

Chris closed with a quote out of the Cambridge Review.

Good Teachers: What they have in common

• Secure knowledge of what is to be taught and learned.
• Command of a broad repertoire of teaching strategies and skills
• Understanding of the evidence in which the repertoire is grounded
• Broad principles of effective learning and teaching derived from the above
• Judgment to weigh up needs and situations, apply the principles and deploy the repertoire appropriately
• A framework of educational aims and values to steer and sustain the whole

... and what the children say

Children, as revealed by the Review's 87 regional consultations, are interested in pedagogy. They said that good teachers are those who;
• ‘Really know their stuff' (what researchers refer to as pedagogical content knowledge)
• ‘Explain things in advance so you know what a lesson is about' (advanced cognitive organization)
• ‘Make sure it's not in too big steps' (graduated instruction)
• ‘Give us records of what we learn' (formative feedback)

If you ever have a chance to hear Chris Thatcher speak, I strongly urge you to go and listen. You will come away with more than just a few pearls of wisdom.

This month's contribution was prepared by Thailand Educators Network, Co-Chair, Tom Erickson.


No comments yet

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

English, Science and Math Teachers

฿42,300+ / month


English Conversation Teachers

฿35,000+ / month


NES English Teachers

฿40,000+ / month


Essay Editor, Writing Coach, IELTS/SAT/GMAT Tutor

฿50,000+ / month


ESL Teachers

฿33,000+ / month


Teacher Assistant for Kindergarten and Primary

฿20,000+ / month

Chon Buri

Featured Teachers

  • Evren

    Turkish, 59 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Glennda

    Filipino, 23 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Myla

    Finnish, 41 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Christina

    Filipino, 24 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Kenji

    Japanese, 41 years old. Currently living in Japan

  • Svetlana

    Russian, 35 years old. Currently living in Thailand

The Hot Spot

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?

Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting ajarn.com and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!

The Region Guides

The Region Guides

Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.

The cost of living

The cost of living

How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

Need Thailand insurance?

Need Thailand insurance?

Have a question about health or travel insurance in Thailand? Ricky Batten from Pacific Prime is Ajarn's resident expert.