Emmanuel Vaillant: “The Innovative Teacher Is Not A Rebel

“Good news from the school” by Emmanuel Vaillant, published on August 23, opens the doors of some thirty schools from kindergarten to high school, whose teachers innovate – in their own way. Meeting with the author.

Emmanuel Vaillant is a journalist specializing in education issues and director of the PTA
Everyone takes the complexity of the relationship to knowledge and learning very seriously. They are crossed by the question: “What is that learning? “And set themselves up as researchers. Faced with a more diverse audience, in the face of children who are not taught by the desire to learn, they seek to arouse curiosity. They activate or reinvent ways to capture the attention of students.“These teachers who transform the national education and you do not know it” is the subtitle of your book, ”  Good news of the school  “. What are the common points of these public school teachers that you met during your investigation?

It is no longer possible today to be in denial: the school is no longer able to increase in knowledge and skills all the children it welcomes. There is a problem, not for everyone, but for the most disadvantaged children. Hence the need to change the ways of doing things.

How are the teachers to whom you devote this book “innovative”?

Most of those I met defended being innovative. No doubt because this term, put at all sauces, is overused. In the minds of people, the innovative teacher uses necessarily digital and invents original, exceptional tricks. What struck me is that the innovative teacher is not a rebel, a slinger against the system. It is more often a person who, by remaining in the nails of the texts, finds margins of maneuvers.

I am thinking of a school at the Nantes Academy , which has taken the challenge to adapt to the learning rhythms of children, taking seriously the cycles in school, which are in the texts. It is no longer a question of whether the students learned everything at the end of the year, but that they worked for three years. All students are confronted with the same obstacles but the moments of passing them are different. What is inscribed in the law has become there an innovative school project.

It should also be stressed that “innovative” teachers often make new with old, using old methods, such as the Freinet method .

What is the role of digital at school today?

In 2017, there is a trivialization of digital technology. The question is no longer whether we are for or against. It is there, everywhere, in our lives. In terms of school equipment, I have observed a great deal of heterogeneity. Some are very little equipped, others have many shelves, with sometimes an internet connection that does not follow. This central question of the insufficient connection to make the machines work correctly remains a mystery for me!

Once these equipment issues are addressed, the important thing is to know what technology is doing. As Yannick Choulet, a teacher who practices Twictée (dictated on Twitter), says “Digital in itself is useless”. I had an interesting dialogue between him and one of his colleagues. The two were doing much the same thing and had a very similar way of getting students to work. One on a shelf. The other on paper.

Cross-cutting initiatives in your investigation are likely to “bring much more turmoil than the hope of a big night”. Is this to say that any reform “from the top”, that is to say from the Ministry of National Education, is doomed to failure?

The change will leave the field but will not disseminate if the Ministry does not accompany and train the teachers better. They feel the need to be helped in the implementation of their projects. And the question of the training of teachers is very present. At the ministry, I heard reflections that seemed to me very interesting to rethink the professional career of teachers: better accompany the young teachers over the first five years, to put them in the stirrup. Then, let them flourish, build skills, experiment and build projects, leaving them alone. And at mid-term, after 15/20 years, place them in a role of tutor so that they can pass on their skills to the younger ones.

The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer , who intends to give more autonomy to the actors, seems to be on the right track?

If it is collective liberty, yes! The fear of the teachers encountered on the question of the autonomy of the establishments is to see the creation of small bastions with small chiefs . What works well is the collective. In this respect, the example of the Lycée du Bourget is interesting. There is both a school leader with a strong charism who has carried the project, and a whole group of teachers involved in defining the school project in its management and consulting each week without the headmaster is necessarily present.

Same thing in a college near Lyon , where a collaborative space project, led by a rather charismatic principal, was the subject of a real consultation with the teachers. Everyone has seen its interest and has become project bearer.

There are also many individual teacher-led initiatives in which principals and principals play a key role. The sustainability of these projects often depends on them. It is therefore not always easy for teachers whose experiments are neither shared by a team nor valued by colleagues or management. Some feel quite alone .

For what reasons do the caricature oppositions – “leftist pedagogues” versus “right-wing Republicans” – and false debates, such as the one on the suppression of notes, occupy as much space when it comes to the School?

Good news from the school

A sociologist, who has worked on the media coverage of subjects on school, points out that the more complicated the issue is, the more the tendency is to simplify the debate. On the notes, as on the methods of reading, I have the feeling that everything is simplified for or against. But on the notes, for example, what is interesting is not whether or not to leave notes, but to ask more complex questions about what they are used for. To ask oneself about the notes is to wonder about the pedagogy.

In this regard, a teacher told me that she had received a journalist from France 2 for a subject on the deletion of the notes broadcast on the news. The story was well done, she understood and described the issues, but the presenter launched the subject by saying “pretty cool this school without notes, I would have liked to be in the place of these students.” In one sentence, he caricatured the debate: without notes, no authority and no demands.

As for the pedagogical / republican debate, I have not found traces on the ground. No teacher defined himself as that. For them, these debates are far removed from their daily lives and their practice.