Big problem school shake-up overlooks
I TEACH second grade. Actually scrap that. I don't just teach second grade. I teach 26 second grade children. Twenty-six children who come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different socio-economic groups, have different personalities, different behavioural issues, different diagnoses, different parental support and different attitudes towards school. Oh, and they have a cognitive range from about the equivalent of a four-year-old to a child that could quite happily sit in a grade six classroom and still probably top it.
Over my 12 years of teaching I have seen new maths, English, history, geography and science syllabuses. I have seen the introduction of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Safe Schools and countless other new initiatives to try to keep up with the changing times that our children are living in. I am trying to teach my students to read and write. Some of my children, at the age of seven, know most but not all of their letters, others are reading Harry Potter. I teach in a classroom that, on top of trying to create a solid foundation of literacy and numeracy skills, I also have to teach them history, geography, physical education, creative arts and science. I am responsible for teaching them technology skills, how to interact with others, compassion, care, acceptance, respect, as well as how to listen, follow instructions and have manners. (Keep in mind that they have only been on the planet for seven years.)
And then I woke up this morning, flicked on the TV and found out that once again, the education system is failing and that we are about to have a massive overhaul of … well, just about everything.
Don't get me wrong, my little rant above lets you know that something is not right. That the system, as it is, is not only making it difficult for our students to reach their potential, it is also producing a whole generation of teachers who arrive bright eyed and bushy tailed, but then, burn out, collapsing in a heap. The student achievement statistics are worrying. But so is the fact that 50 per cent of graduate teachers are leaving the profession within the first five years. I agree something has to be done, but what I am wondering is this. By only addressing the academic curriculum and outcomes of our students, are we really getting to the heart of the issue?
I actually agree with a lot of what David Gonski proposes in his report. I love the fact that the priority in the early grades (before they turn eight), will move back to giving them a strong foundation of reading, writing and mathematics skills. I love the fact that we are moving away from the industrial model of mass education. The range in my classroom is unbelievable. I can't teach my little one who is writing three-page stories the same content or use the same methods as I do with those who are still learning to structure a sentence.
But the reality is this. Teachers are already presented with a ridiculously overcrowded academic curriculum, as well as a social, emotional and behavioural curriculum that is unwritten. On paper, the idea of every child having an individual learning plan is perfect. I can plan to the finest detail what each child needs and how I can tailor my teaching, the curriculum and my resources to suit each one of my 26 students. I can put it into an online tool and I can have it colour coded, printed and laminated, as us teachers love to do, ready for implementation. But when I walk into that classroom, I have 26 seven-year-olds, not just one. And I have one of me, not 26. I will have meltdowns (from students, not me!), defiance, anxiety, behavioural issues, special needs - the list goes on. And then I will try to teach.
What I did not see in the information that was reported on this morning is how we are addressing those issues. You can give me an overhauled curriculum, an individual learning plan for every student, an online tool that helps me track academic progress. But my classroom is not just about academics. My classroom is full of individual students with a myriad of issues, behaviours, backgrounds, cultures and diagnoses. I am teaching students. Real life students. Students who are coming into the classroom everyday with so much going on in their heads that learning is often the second priority. And as their teacher, that is where I need the overhaul to happen. I need the overhaul to take into account all of the content that I am teaching in my classroom that is not in the syllabus, but takes up just as much, if not more time than the dots points in the curriculum.
So, I do honestly thank you Mr Gonski. There is so much in the review that addresses some really big important issues in education. No, actually not in education, in curriculum. But in 2018, teaching and education is not just about the curriculum. It is about real-life students, with real life teachers, in real life classrooms.
So to all of the decision-makers in this, I ask of you, please do not just look at the academic side of this. Our results are getting lower, but the reasons behind that are not just academic.