Teaching is stuck in a quagmire of self-doubt and navel-gazing.
As a profession it resides in a peculiar position – its one of the few for which the vast majority has had extensive experience. As such everybody has an opinion on education. The good, the bad, where it gets it right and where teachers get it wrong. An industry riddled with pay disputes and a declining perception within society houses within its own ranks a legion of battered and forlorn individuals who remain perpetually frustrated about the careerpath they find themselves on. From the aforementioned issue of pay to the unruly child in the class to the scheming principal/library teacher/fellow grade one colleague, there can seem no end to the complaints-list of a teacher.
In and of itself, this is not a terrible thing. For most people, their job is a place they spend much of their time wishing to be somewhere else. However complaining openly on social media and endlessly in staff rooms around the country serves only to damage the perception of the profession within ranks and hold back claims for respect from outside.
Whilst much of what is discussed here relates mainly to informal conversation within the walls of a school, a cursory look over the internet (god forbid) reveals a troubling attitude of martyrdom and self-depravity that I see as negative aspects of this by and large noble profession.
I’m certainly not saying that teacher’s should not stand for better recognition, respect within the community and pay as they deem appropriate. However, I fear too many refuse to fight that battle from a position of strength. Those within the profession are often the first to denigrate the job – criticizing those who belittle teachers one moment before backhanding their line of work/place of work/colleague the next.
By all means, teachers should fight and fight hard for dignity and whatever workplace adjustments necessary to get the best outcomes for the children we teach. It is, you could argue, a teacher’s responsibility to work to this very end. I simply don’t believe the majority of teachers have the knowledge to adequately pave that path on their own and fear the thoughtless complaining does more to erode the scaffold we’re trying to erect.
Though I, like many, have inklings as to how best to support and build the industry, I’m not in the know of the ins and outs of what needs to be done to achieve the goal. Whether it be policy production or a school’s perception in the wider community, I simply could not adequately argue the course we should take and it’s rare to come across those who do. Those who argue for better pay would find it difficult I presume to identify an appropriate payment structure let alone decipher where the extra money required would come from.
Regardless, if a teacher is able to coherently form a considered, researched and articulate vision for teaching and a clear path for enhanced reputation they should take the platform to do so wherever they can claw for airspace. It’d be loathsome and irresponsible to suggest that teachers be silenced from the debate and issues for which they are some of the most integral parts.
What I suggest, rather, is that each teacher be acutely aware of their role in the profession. Daily gripes about pay/parents/principals/policy/the timetable/reporting/the children distract too many from their number one task. I fear too many teachers share the same concerns about teaching as those of the outside and subsequently spend too long considering their appraisals – leading to an unimpressive situation where the professionals lower themselves to the opinions of the bystanders. Teachers too often lose faith and trust in their abilities, corroded by the perceived stares into their fishbowl – like jobs.
The reality is that no one teaching is going to be able to change the malaise of the perceptions of teaching or the farce of the policymakers over night. A facebook whinge or a staffroom complaint-athon achieves the opposite of where we want our road to lead us. Complaining to the public only lowers perceptions further whilst the barrage directed toward those in the trenches alongside us only crumbles the foundations from within.
Teachers must ensure they take pride in their endeavors and be mindful of the language used when discussing them. Of course, letting off steam is necessary for everyone – but not in a manner that degrades a career. Maintaining respect and passion for the minds we help shape and the ways we do it is paramount. Understand that it has taken much love, hard work and determination to step into the shoes of a teacher and that your work is as important as any other.
Be responsible for building the pillars and foundations from within. Be informed about issues related to teaching and be willing to share your expertise with your peers. Each positive remark to a colleague, thought-provoking conversation over lunch or initiative that improves the functioning of your school makes our profession stronger and builds our resilience. When genuine problems in the industry arise, take a considered, educated position and deliver it clearly where and to whom you see appropriate to achieve the greatest result.
Overall, try to remember to love the job you do and have respect in yourself to recognize that you are a vital member of this challenging, beautiful and yes, at times, frustrating career.
And would you look at that, yet another sizable whinge from a teacher.
Educating a child is the least definable professional endeavour one can pursue. Arguably.
There is simply no guidebook for the proper facilitation of each individual seated in front of you at the beginning of a school day.
Sure, there are enough models for best practice to fill every bakery in South Australia, yet none can accurately serve to offer explicit instruction to reach every individual in a cluster.
We can research learning disorders, behavioural disorders, psychological manifestos, delve deep into our psyches and memories but, in the end, there can be no hard and fast rule when dealing with children. For every argument you can make for one course of action or decision, there can often be an equally compelling counter-argument.
Part of the difficulty of the profession is that the subjects are removed from the content. Other industries may identify variables and implement strategies to eliminate their detrimental influence on a final outcome. Think engineering. Architecture. Photography. Cooking. Obstacles can be identified and removed. You can’t do that with a child.
Obviously, you can implement strategies to aid a child ease into an educational setting from which to get the best out of themselves, but it can’t be guaranteed and it can’t be one-size-fits-all. Just as you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it enjoy the view – some children can be facilitated to the nth degree by their teacher, but they won’t necessarily benefit from the effort.
Each child, you see, is exquisitely unique. Frustratingly so, at times, but absolutely unique nonetheless.
Each child brings with them their own experiences, their own interests, hopes, dislikes, worries, their own sets of social norms. Their own self doubts.
Even by implementing the best educational practice techniques, you simply cannot ensure that you are supporting the whole child the whole of the time.
When I consider this, I think it helpful to consider the way in which we see the world. I only see out of one eye and I occasionally will block its sight so I see out of the other eye. The view is essentially the same (though far more blurry) but the angle is slightly different.
No matter your teaching style or technique, each pair of eyes and ears in front of you will have a slightly different view to what you are saying and your words will enter their ears subtly different to how they exited your minds.
Like a beautiful sunrise, I don’t particularly want to find out the answers to any of the above. I simply wish to marvel at the uniqueness of the human race and to enjoy those moments of clear connection that arise frequently from dealing with children – even if that connection is not necessarily shared both ways!
As much as I try and plan an engaging, interesting approach to the teaching of every concept I teach, I can’t guarantee that the 5 year old in front of me will be more interested in it than his dissappointment at what’s in his lunchbox or his counting down the uncertain minutes to play time.
That’s the frustration of teaching children. That’s the joy.
The first big-name trade of the September holidays has been finalised, with Ben Smith heading to the Evans’ and Michael Evans joining the Smiths, after both families finally agreed to terms.
Today’s move is seen as beneficial for both families, with each securing members who will fulfil necessary roles in the coming years.
For the Smiths, the acquisition of Evans signifies an extra string to their already illustrious bow. With elder boys Tim and James, along with sister Tamsin, the Smiths have long-held the mantle of academic excellence. The addition of Michael Evans to their lineup gives them a sporting element that they have, up until now, been missing.
The charismatic Evans looks set to have an immediate impact in livening dinner-table discussion and should prove a handy bragging point for the Smith family.
Of course the move is not without controversy, as the 17-year-old Evans was believed to have one year left on his contract. Subsequently, the premature decision of his parents to move him on may hurt the Smith’s new recruit.
Evans is, however, believed to be excited to be re-united with his family dog, Scully, whom the Smith’s poached in late 2011.
For the Evans’ it’s a matter of providing structure and leadership for their young group. The family is expected to benefit greatly from the academic example that 18-year-old Ben will provide for the family’s young children Amy, 8, Chloe, 6, and Tom, 0.
It has been evident for a number of years that the Evans’ have been opting for a youth-approach, rebuilding the family name.
The acquisition of Ben Smith is seen as a coup for the family, after they swooped on Number 1 recruit Tom Robertson (pictured) in the June Draft.
“Yeah, nah, look, we’re thrilled to add Ben to our ranks,” David Evans stated in an interview following the trade. “We think he’s a man with immense prospects and we felt that we also needed to get someone in there with the kids who would provide strong guidance and support for the youngsters to follow.”
When asked if he would miss his son, Michael, David quipped “He’s a Smith now, isn’t he? Nah, look, yeah I probably will. You know, you can’t really think about these things at the moment you’ve just got to get on with the job. Maybe at the end of my life it’ll be something I’ll reflect on, but at the moment I’m just going to look after my squad.”
Steven Smith was equally as straight bat in his response to a similar line of questioning.
Sipping a martini whilst patting Scully, Steven was philosophical in his approach. “You see, Ben was a wonderful boy. He was dedicated and would spend his days studying hard and, for that, we respected him.”
It seems that Ben was more a victim of sameness, than anything else. The Smiths have similar types and needed to diversify their ranks. “Basically, we already had 3 of him – each now in the latter stages of their university careers. We needed to get someone in who would liven things up, provide a bit of spark and flair. That was what we saw in Michael.”
Meanwhile, reports of 31-year-old accountant Jonathan James moving out of home has proven to have been the stuff of rumour. Jonathon has signed on for another 12 months at home and appears set to finish his career under the very roof it began under.
“I also wanted to be a one-house kind of guy and I’m thrilled that it seems that they will be the way it works out,” Jonathon enthusiastically stated.
“We’re thrilled to keep him here,” Mum bellowed, “thrilled!”
The response from his father, however, was slightly less exuberant.
9 year olds
Generally an exuberant, friendly, out-going group of humans. They have certain inhibitions, but these do not stop them from doing what they want in most cases. Generally coordinated, but not great, 9 year olds will give most activities a go (especially if they are confident with a particular activity). Able to maintain bodily functions and steady conversation. Good degree of self-awareness.
Me after 1-2 pints.
7 year olds
Have some idea of surroundings and appropriate behaviour, but will often forget themselves and indulge in abnormal behaviour. Prone to mis-stepping as they walk and, occasionally, crying for no reason, the 7 year-old has little inhibition (especially if it will garner greater attention from others). Often opinionated, the 7 year-old likes to deal in matter-of-fact conversation, with no concept of areas of grey. Slight self-awareness.
Me after 3-5 pints.
5 year olds
Have short attention spans. Whilst they are able to decode simple words and sentences, children of this age have difficulty comprehending when they read and can make basic decoding errors. Co-ordination is still developing but bodily functions can, with concentration, be controlled. 5 year olds will excitedly share information they know with people they meet and are susceptible to staring at shiny/colourful objects for great lengths of time. Occasionally, they may share information that is a little bit too personal, but it’s offered in a friend-affirming manner. Little self-awareness.
Me after 6-8 pints.
3 year olds
Are completely self-indulgent. About 75% of what they say can be understood by strangers and most sentences contain about 3-4 words. Children of this age are short-term focused, ask “what?” a lot and have very little control over their coordination. Walking in a straight line may not be possible and, occasionally, the 3 year-old will have to take a double-step to reaffirm balance. Children of this age are generally convivial to conversation, but can often break down in tears for no apparent reason and may detest sharing. They have little comprehension of the world around them but are generally pretty confident to explore. These little devils can be incredibly possessive of their belongings to the point of obsession, yet this does not render them incapable of leaving most of their things behind when they need to move on. They have difficulty maintaining bodily functions. Very happy to talk to strangers. They are proud of their body parts and celebrate, in the greater scheme of things, pretty mediocre accomplishments. Minimal self-awareness.
Me after 9-10 pints.
Eat, cry and sleep. Desperate for food, they will often complain incessantly until they get it. Afterwards, they will often vomit back the very same food that they had so violently cried for only minutes earlier. They have absolutely no control over bodily functions and possess an incredibly slight memory. Slurred utterances are the only sounds humans of this age are capable of producing. No self-awareness.
Me after 11 pints.
Are lazy, selfish, whingy individuals who spend much of their time in dark places, converse in a series of shortish grunts and get by, for the greater part, on potato chips and other assorted condiments.
Me hungover. (Yeah, I know, the order is a bit strange. I suppose teenagers end up paying the price for the years of the alcohol abuse that they participated in as a child).
“Kids these days…” – undoubtedly the quintessential catch-cry of the ex-juvenile.
The statement, usually uttered with distain, is sprouted by individuals from the moment in time the observer feels detached from “youth” culture.
I think each generation makes generic complaints about the incumbent youths and it’s probably something that has happened for some time. Half a century ago it may’ve related to kids and their rock’n’roll music. 30 years ago clothing styles and general disrespect. 20 years ago perhaps the accelerated arrogance of the young.
Nowadays (and possibly merely as a continuation of a previous theme) “kids these days” can reflect a displeasure across any number of fronts. Rude children, pushy children, lazy children, over-excited children, mannerless children, selfish children, troubled children, confident children.
Now, I can get pissed off at those younger that me as well as the next person – but I come at it from a different slant.
Being a primary teacher, I see a whole range of personalities. The positives, the areas for improvement, the concerns, in each child. What bothers me is attitudes of parents – most specifically, the inability of many to say “no.”
Children, from the youngest age, have very defined personalities. Yet they are also greatly defined by their environment. They are greatly influenced by those who are closest to them.
When children want something and get it immediately without strain, effort, patience or virtue; they are being sold short. Children are capable of the most wondrous things – yet are crippled by the assumption that they must be appeased at all moments.
Not all of life’s experiences should be positive. At least at a young age, parents can control the extent and arenas for how their young manage disappointment so that they can learn and grow. I’m obviously not saying that parenting is easy, but I believe that it is crucial that parents have a clear outline for the values that they want to enrich their children with.
Walking home the other night I witnessed two parents give in to a whining child over the most mediocre of requests. They initially started strong, with a bold “no,” yet within seconds of the child demonstrating near-tantrum activities, the parents succumbed to a “oh…OK.”
Parents these days…
Teaching Poetry to 7 year olds.
Akin to speaking a little-known foreign language to a deaf person.
The mind of a 7 year old resides primarily in the concrete. The child has worked hard throughout the entirety of their lives to make sense of the indiscernible. Within the space of a few short years, many unknown sites and sounds are compartmentalised in the mind and made sense of. Whereas a child of 6 months will be confused by most aspects of daily life, a 7 year old has steadily progressed along the path of understanding.
They get stuff. Stuff they don’t get, they either ignore, adapt past knowledge to fit or create a new knowledge bank. Children of this age thrive on the concrete. Gaining and sharing knowledge is a highlight. This is not to say that imagination has no place, far from it. Often, imagination is where the child can put forward their knowledge in an area completely controlled by their own mind. They learn something new, it makes little sense at the time. The child puts it into practice in a controlled setting and this helps to bring light to the subject matter.
Poetry doesn’t quite fit this process.
Poetry relies, to a degree at least, on wording the unwordable or describing the easily describable in a beautiful, abstract way.
Today, when writing Cinquain poetry, I challenged the children to describe an athlete at the Olympics in an event…poetically.
To put into words the grace of Sally Pearson cascading over hurdles on her way to gold, to capture the might of Usain Bolt’s presence.
“He ran fast,” “She jumped” seemed to be the extent of the offerings.
Trying my best, I attempted to draw out what I knew was inside of them. Each child. Reaching their potential and all that.
“But what did it look like? When Bolt streaked away from the field, leaving the competitor’s far behind?”
I needed more. I would push and push for their minds trapped in concrete definitions to exaggerate the events they had witnessed.
And they would look at me with their big, beautiful, sparking, eager-to-please eyes which barely guarded me from the utterly blinding light, signalling that, in fact, that hadn’t a clue what I was on about.
Essentially, I learnt a few things through the exercise.
1) I need to get better at teaching poetry
2) I need to change up the processes in the classroom. Too often, children complete the pattern of being set a task, completing the task, checking how they went. Such a structure emphasises being “right” – suitable for certain circumstances, but not for higher-order thinking. Not for poetry!
3) Occasionally, children need less modeling. Often, I find myself almost patently pointing out to the children step by step what needs to be done. Whilst this is occasionally necessary, when it comes to writing this, by and large, serves to censor the inherent creativity of a 7 year old. Leading them to fixate incessantly on formula, spelling, handwriting rather than sentence structure, rich description and flare.
At the end of the day, whenever I reflect on teaching, I’m drawn to the conclusion that for every argument I make toward one path of teaching, I can make an equally pertinent yet perpendicular argument.
That’s the joy of teaching. That’s the frustration of teaching. I guess, like poetry, teaching is not about right or wrong.