All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. (Unknown)
As I step into the classroom this week for the very first time as the teacher, not the student, I am in a unique position to reflect on the role of this ancient profession. What is it that has drawn me into this path? Why have I chosen to move away, leave family and friends, to plunge into this role, uncertain of what it has in store for me in the years to come?
The answers to these questions are not important right now. What is important, is the belief that I have in teachers to potentially make amazing, wide-reaching, dramatic changes to those maturing individuals that come before them. It is a profession that I, like many others, have many opinions about – I critique, I judge, I compare. However, I am in awe of what teachers do in transmitting skills and knowledge to their students.
At the micro level, the learning of the student is in the hands of their teacher: initially, they can only know as much as the teacher knows. Is the developing mind of a child imprinted by the content and boundaries of their teacher’s own limitations of thought? Think Locke’s tabula rasa (blank slate)… Yet the inside of the classroom does also mirror the structure and governing rules of society at large.
The teacher in many ways is a vehicle for educating the future adult citizens of society and inducting them into the norms of society. This role is elucidated by particular frameworks that are articulated by government, from vague and value-laden, to more tightly prescriptive. In Australia, these frameworks include the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians and the incoming Australian Curriculum. I argue that in addition, the NAPLAN tests carry strong messages into classrooms about what sort of citizens we want our young people to be (in particular, I am thinking of ideas around comparison and constant, measurable progress).
In many ways, teachers are technicians, who take in the normative ideas and language of the local, national and even global communities, and re-craft these into messages that slowly build up a foundation of knowledge for students. It is with this knowledge, and toolbox of skills, that students then equipped, are able to emerge into the world as capable young adults.
At this knowing-yet-not-knowing stage of teaching, I do not have the hindsight to reflect upon my own practice. I can only look forward onto an uncertain path, hesitant yet eager to begin my work.