What is English teaching? Belonging to a subject community
Does an excellent teacher of English necessarily need to know the origins, history and formative infl uences of ‘English’? There is no concrete evidence to suggest this is so, but then there has been no serious research to investigate the matter. Robert Protherough’s two books, The Making of English Teachers (1991) and Students of English (1989), explore some of the issues associated with this territory and make a case for such knowledge; with Judith Atkinson, he also explored this in a chapter called ‘Shaping the image of an English Teacher’ (1994); Grossman offers a valuable US perspective ( Grossman 1990). The argument throughout this book is that the expert teacher is an extended professional who is a model for, and infl uential upon, others and their development. Standards, like notions of competence, can be dominantly narrow and reductive, although they need not be; there can be a message that one simply ‘reaches the standard’. The expert teacher makes good use of standards where they have validity, but is not controlled or positioned by them. Deep knowledge of a school subject by a good teacher is a key part of understanding the nature of that subject and also of being a source of such knowledge to novices and peers. The emphases of the last twenty years, and to some extent much longer, have been on ‘subject knowledge’, i.e. of the academic subject, and this has often obscured the importance of both contextual knowledge and of the history of the school subject itself.