Ok, here’s a truth you probably recognise, we need educational reform. I have suspected for some time now that those most able to offer tangible, practical solutions to the problems besieging our classrooms are the ones who are cheerfully ignored. Perhaps this is because those most qualified to provide answers are busy in the classroom doing what needs to be done; the ones ‘in the know’, the ‘good teachers’, are doing what they do best. Teaching.
In a recent Sydney Morning Herald article (18-19/12/10) Adele Horne, proposed the idea that the top ATAR achievers of 2010 were unlikely to choose teaching as their preferred course of study. Rather, she proposed, these intelligent, dedicated students are likely to select courses which promise higher prestige and potential earning capacity. In support of this observation, Horne referred to the tendency of teachers to refer to themselves as, “just a teacher” and suggested that societal perception of teachers meant that teachers often felt inferior to those in higher paid professions. Of course the irony here is that a ‘good teacher’ probably inspired or enabled those in prestigious professions to achieve their success in the first place.
Indeed, as Horne pointed out, research has estimated that a ‘good’ teacher can actually provide double the opportunities for students to learn. In other words, a good teacher facilitates learning by providing the opportunity for students to develop the skills, strategies, and understandings which become the foundation for future success. In defining what constitutes a ‘good teacher’, she suggested that good teachers “love their subject area and are masters of it … plan exhaustively … constantly re-evaluate their practice, do not spend their time complaining [and] are not necessarily dynamic personalities”.
Wherein lays one of the determinants for the current state of Education in Australia. The ‘best’ teachers who are arguably those most qualified to propose meaningful change, are the individuals who quietly go about their business of helping students achieve their best. They are the ones who choose to remain in front of the desks – not the ones behind an administrative table or policy directives. As a result, they are the least likely to have the opportunity (and perhaps the inclination) to engage in the frustrating and time consuming business of bureaucracy, politics and public policy. Yet, perhaps they should.
At this point it is interesting to remember the acclaim assigned to Bards,’ Wise Women’ and ‘Wise Men’ since historically, they were the storytellers and keepers of the knowledge. Today knowledge is kept in cyber space and accessible by anyone with a modem. Perhaps this is why teaching has low status. As a result of technology, the role of schools and thus teachers, has changed. Educational policy needs to address this issue and I want to put my hand up to be part of it. Teachers need the time to teach and they need to be recognised as professionals.
So, my question is, how does a politically inexperienced, experienced teacher from the Northern Beaches of Sydney become an activist for change? Care to join me in my quest to make school relevant to the needs to today’s teenagers?