Category Archives: Authority

Subject authority

This is a new concept for me. So I am really parking a link here with a quick description so I can come back to it later on.

The concept is that a teacher’s subject knowledge gives them the authority to teach a subject.

I first came across this idea when I was on my first day of teaching observation and I was talking to a teacher about my worries about my lack of knowledge of computer programming. An experienced teacher said in response that kids do detect a teacher’s depth of knowledge and problems can arise. It’s as if the little darlings are challenging teachers to be experts and if they find them wanting they start playing up.

It is also the subject of this book, Authority and the Teacher, by William Kitchen,  I found being reviewed in spiked

The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge 
requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the 
absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes 
inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning 
and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Those words “simply facilitation” bring back memories of teaching some classes in Spain. We were instructed to only teach conversation and not to do grammar. And I remember one class of adults who got me into a mess when we started talking about the conditionals. It was then that I realised I did not know my English grammar sufficiently well and I started to struggle and get confused by my lack of knowledge of English grammar. Not a nice experience!

I also remember what my frind Gavin said to me when he heard I was going to train to be a teacher. He sent me an email telling me about three teachers he remembered from his time at school. He recalled their individual teaching styles and subject knowledge of French. He remembered a primary school head who let him study French, instead of other subjects. He  particularly his A level teacher who taught him how French was really spoken. Gavin went on to be a French / English translator.

He was inspired by these teachers’ knowledge of the subject and their inspired methods to teach it.