Janine Rees 5th August 2016
I’ve read numerous articles this week about NAPLAN results and my frustration levels have gone through the roof. Let’s get rid of it! Every teacher can tell you it is a waste of time and money. Put that time and money into restructuring schools to work for all children. Put that money into experienced, talented teachers who can support children to learn to think for themselves. Teachers who can inspire children to find their passion, to use their creativity and talents to make the world a better place. In fact let’s get rid of everything we teachers know is not working. Here’s a novel idea, let the teachers work together to run the schools. A bit like a democracy, but with real equality added in.
I am inordinately frustrated every time I hear another derogatory comment made by Donald Trump. I believe the majority of people agree that he’s a buffoon. I am terrified by the thought of this emotionally immature, self-serving, bully running the world. It frustrates me no end that these people keep occupying positions of power. These people are about controlling others and furthering their own selfish interests. The annals of history are littered with these control freaks! Anyone remember Hitler?
After my frustration wanes I try to take the higher road and see Trump in all his humanity. The poor soul just doesn’t realize how desperately mentally unbalanced he is. I would hazard a guess that his year one teacher, over coffee in the staff room said, that boy is a megalomaniac. His parents probably explained away every terrible act of bullying he perpetrated in his young life and taught him to win at all costs. If someone punched him, to punch them back and don’t take no crap from no one. Alpha male all the way, Type A personality on steroids. He is a bully and will walk all over anyone to get what he wants. It’s made him rich and famous because we allow it and subscribe to it.
Who is ultimately to blame for these unbalanced types ending up at the top? Is it us average Joe’s who are too scared to speak up and to call out inappropriate behaviour? The moral majority who have been taught to toe the line, don’t rock the boat! During the Second World War who was to blame for the murderous anihilation of millions of people? Adolf Hitler was the crazed, mastermind but what of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers at the end of the chain of command doing his bidding?! Democracy is a ruse.
Our system of leadership in Australia sees politicians with absolutely no teaching experience relying on academics who often have limited teaching experience. Ask us, ask the teachers and students you are affecting. Often, as many ‘leaders’ do, there is mock consultation and then the implementation of their brilliant plan. Just like those positions one interviews for knowing full well that there is already someone lined up for the job. Transparency is not the aim of the narcissist in power. Thank God for social media and Four Corners.
All and sundry will agree that teachers are overworked, underpaid and undervalued but then complain when teachers strike because they’ve exhausted all other options to negotiate fair pay, and of course they have lots of holidays!!! Pay teachers what they are worth as educated professionals. Put money into schools, Gonski style, and sit back and watch our society change for the better.
I hold grave fears for the future if something doesn’t change very soon. We have an enormous number of parents and teachers sharing their first hand accounts of how broken the school system is. I returned to teaching two and a half years ago after a ten year hiatus raising my three children. Since the introduction of the National Curriculum I have seen my beloved profession turn into something unrecognisable. It has moved as far away from child-centred as I believe it can. We have stopped short of barcoding each child’s forehead.
Children as young as four are being categorised and ranked within an inch of their lives. Four year olds are acquiring anxiety disorders directly linked to the developmentally inappropriate school environment that will affect their health outcomes for the rest of their lives. This is not to be taken lightly. Let’s test the cortisol levels of children and teachers and maybe finally we might see the physical effects and see some changes. At the end of last year, after completing my twelve month contract, I decided to leave the classroom due to the fact that I would not be responsible for damaging young children. I am now one of a large pool of experienced teachers undertaking relief teaching and doing the best I can to make a difference for the children I encounter.
I am yet to meet a teacher who is happy with the changes the curriculum has brought to the Queensland classroom. Many schools require its teachers to report on all children from prep to year 6 on a 5 point scale (A to E). Giving a 5 year old a D for history or geography is absurd. Teachers have little leeway in the units of work we teach and it is expected that each class complete the same worksheets to go into the portfolios to back up the reports and assessment. Accountability gone mad!
In the old days I could use my creativity to facilitate the students’ movements towards developmentally appropriate outcomes. I could tell you exactly what each of my students was passionate about or gifted with and also the areas where they needed support. Now there’s barely time to teach the enormous amount of content let alone cater for individual needs. Testing and ranking and reporting is the dominating factor. Then there is the behaviour aspect we need to support brought on by pushing all the children through the same sausage machine. They are spat out the other end exhausted, crushed and anxious.
I was physically and emotionally spent by the end of the year and if you ask any teacher they will tell you the same. The amount of unpaid hours of work is phenomenal and that is to just meet the standard daily classroom requirements. I’m not adding in the traditional activities like sport, chess clubs, drama clubs, gardening clubs, fetes, camps and the like that teachers have always done in their own time out of the goodness of their hearts because they know how much their students need and love those activities.
Disagreeing with the powers that be doesn’t make for good promotion prospects or an easy life, so many teachers are doing their best to hold it together for their students and their own families. The alternative is not a great move financially. Disenfranchised and burnt out, just what we want for the shapers of the future.
To the politicians and academics that have recently reviewed and ratified the curriculum, I ask you to spend a week in the classroom with a teacher and then make your judgements. I have had the pleasure of working with two amazing principals (out of roughly a dozen) who were focused on the students and service to others. What these principals could achieve was inspiring. Ray Trotter of Woorana Park Primary is a perfect example (See Rethinking Primary School Classrooms at sparkt.com.au ).
Many parents I speak with are looking for alternative education models such as Steiner, Montessori and the like. The waiting lists are enormous and I have met parents who are willing to undertake huge commutes to get their children to forward thinking schools. These schools are often independent schools so are not subordinate to a large organisation. Goal 1 of the Melbourne Declaration states that Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence. Well we can see the striving for academic excellence but I cannot see the equity at all. Drastic changes need to be made to equally meet the needs of all Australian students. In Australia there is a primary school in every neighbourhood but you could not even begin to argue that each school is equitable. I’m sorry to bring up Finland…again…but what a perfect example of equity and smart collaboration.
Society’s most vulnerable, or the children who traditionally don’t “do school” well, are the biggest victims here. The high paced, overloaded, year level based curriculum has seen anxiety and disruptive behaviour at an all time high. We need to meet the child where they are, not mold the child to fit the curriculum.
The phasing out of childhood in recent years has been devastating. My eldest two children had a wonderful start to school life and my youngest, though he had the most beautiful teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, had to endure the new curriculum and it was gut wrenching to watch. With no positions available in alternative education settings and long waiting lists my only option would have been to home school, which I contemplated, but wasn’t the right decision for us.
I’ve been visiting schools that I believe are following a child-centred path in order to share information with other like minded parents and educators so that together we can make tangible differences in the lives of the young people in our care. The fact is that the people at the bottom of the bureaucrat’s list are the children. A school is not a business. A school is a community. Instead of having unbalanced ‘leaders’ at the top of the hierarchy we need to unbalance the hierarchy and put the children at the top. Each individual child. Not a collection of children, we want a system that caters for each child. Flashy new principal’s offices and dodgy old classrooms and playgrounds reek of injustice. There are amazing principals and teachers out there, that have learned how to satisfy the criteria laid down by the systems in which they must function without compromising their morals. The brave principals who stand up for what is right. I hope to introduce you to more of them in the coming weeks.
Simon Birmingham and Kate Jones, for our children’s sake and for the sake of the future, let teachers do their jobs. The job of mentoring. The job of assisting children in their journey towards becoming critical thinkers. The job of unveiling passions and gifts. Please listen to us. That is the role of a good leader.