Australia’s results in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study were disappointing. Peter Hatcher, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, suggests we need “more transformative teachers in our schools”. To Peter, and anyone else who may agree with him I say, look carefully and you will see we already have transformative teachers in our schools. Unfortunately, much of their talent is wasted.
Why? Because they are buried under mountains of bureaucratic systems management. Put simply, teachers are not given time to teach. Good teaching, transformative teaching takes time. Teachers need time to prepare innovative lessons. They need time to deliver challenging, relevant, practically focused classes. Teachers need time to reflect upon teaching and learning practices. Transformative teaching also requires immense energy.
How many visitors to schools take a good look at teacher’s faces? Have you seen the exhaustion behind the positive smile? Perhaps you noted how a teacher’s eyes dart with Mad Eye Mooney dexterity – to remain alert to everything happening around them. Maybe you have registered the apologetic shoulder slump as they explain they only have a couple of minutes to discuss your child’s progress because they are about to;
– dash off to speak with a parent,
– attend a meeting,
– write reports,
– answer parent emails,
– prepare materials for the next class,
– complete paperwork for the upcoming excursion (or to report an incident that happened on playground duty),
before they are ready to teach class for the remainder of the afternoon.
Perhaps you questioned time management and wondered if any of these tasks could wait until after school. In an apologetic tone, the teacher probably explained after school they will;
– attend a PD session,
– set an exam for next week,
– mark the exams completed yesterday,
– prepare a series of lessons based on the PD session (they are hoping the PD will be relevant so they can tie it in to a lesson earlier today when it became obvious the students needed to spend more time on foundational skills before moving on to the next content unit),
– catch the latest twitter or linked in feed to uncover some useful PD.
Maybe, you looked up in surprise and questioned if this was a particularly busy day. Sadly, the teacher would probably shake their head and respond, “no, this is a normal day”.
If you then wondered how anyone could possibly juggle all of these tasks and still have time to;
– think creatively,
– read the latest research,
– collaborate with colleagues to devise fresh teaching approaches,
you may begin to understand what Australia needs to do to lift its educational standards. It really is quite simple (and it goes beyond funding, testing and attracting the ‘best’). Give teachers time to teach.
It is time to look closely at the teachers we already have. Most are brilliant. Most teachers in our schools are compassionate, creative, intelligent innovators with high empathy skills. I know this because I worked in a school where each of my colleagues was a highly competent, considerate professional. I regularly attend TeachMeets where I gather with dedicated, passionate teachers who share exceptional learning strategies. I have mentored amazingly talented university students (on teaching prac) who demonstrated enthusiasm, commitment and in-depth content knowledge of their subject area.
So, let’s gaze inside real schools and consider what is broken, rather than looking outside at what may be broken. Policy makers should attach themselves to ‘chalk face teachers’ and spend a couple of months within schools before they determine what is needed to raise the standard of education in Australian schools. We need primary, in the field, practical research, not a group of consultants observing from afar and collecting ‘one size fits all’ data. In the words of Atticus Finch, “You can never really understand a person until you consider all things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” We already have many brilliant teachers, they simply need the opportunity to do the brilliant work they desperately want to do.
Teachers need time to teach and although some people like to focus on ‘all the holidays’ a teacher has remember, school holidays are for students, teachers have ‘non-term time’. During non-term time teachers either work from home or on campus. They prepare next term’s lessons, catch up on filing, amend programs, read current research and complete PD.
Finally, in the spirit of the season, let me leave you with an analogy relevant to staying safe over the holiday period. We know drivers must be well rested to remain alert. No matter how skilful a person is behind the wheel, they cannot drive with precision if they are tired. That is why we are taught to “stop, revive, survive”. We are told to rest during the ‘revive’ period – this is not a time for dashing around. We also know sleep cannot be ‘banked’ for latter. You know how dangerous it would be to suggest an extra 3 hours sleep today would let you drive an extra 3 hours tomorrow.
Please give teachers the time they need to teach with precision and expertise.
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Other posts linked to this topic, What do Students Need, A teaching Analogy for the Bureaucratically Minded
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