Teachers who go above and beyond (the Good #1)

It’s Friday night, winter’s set in and we’re huddled around fire drums that have been set up on school grounds. Five teachers and a handful of parents are supervising 40 students who are running around searching for items to put together makeshift shelters. This is Homelessness Night.

Some of our Year 7 students are currently studying the topic as part of a term’s work on Civics and Citizenship. To help students develop empathy and really understand what life is like as a homeless person, a colleague has organised a guest speaker who works with homeless young people in the local area. Students hear about the challenges faced by the 300 people who are homeless on any given night in our town.

After spending some time out in the cold, they watch a documentary on homelessness in Australia. Here students get an insight into the lives of some of the 22,000 teenagers currently homeless in Australia.

By the end of the night, the message seems to have hit home. The students are quiet and have clearly been impacted by what they’ve seen and heard. 

An event like this doesn’t just run on its own, nor does it occur all that often. The teacher behind the event put in countless hours of prep work in the lead up. And were it not for the tight OH&S regulations that prohibit sleeping at the school, she would have had students camping out overnight to gain an even more real experience.

During recent negotiations with the state government, the Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) highlighted how much extra work teachers do on an everyday basis. As mentioned previously, when AEU members started implementing a strict 38-hour work week policy many out-of-class commitments such as camps and other out-of-school events had to be cancelled.

The importance of these extra activities that are carried out in an unpaid capacity cannot be understated. As with the Homelessness Night, it is during these times that some of the most profound teaching and learning goes on.

This may be because in these contexts the teacher is more freely able to enact their profession as an artform, rather than mechanically working in a manner that is hurried and strictly responsive to structural needs of a curriculum.

When teachers are outside the classroom there are different constraints: they are less time-bound and curriculum-focused. They are more able to dedicate themselves to the unwritten aspects of teaching that deal with personal and interpersonal development, including communication, teamwork and empathy.

The teacher who goes above and beyond, is the teacher who cares deeply about their work and has the desire to not just teach content matter but to enrich the lives of their students, by transferring across a meaningful system of knowledge and level of understanding about the world.

Advertisements

5 good things

As a teacher, it can be very easy to focus on what’s going wrong around you: a class that didn’t go as planned, students who are being disruptive, students who are being bullied, staff politics, stress, short time-frames, long hours, etc. Indeed, it seems that this attitude is one that is mirrored more generally in the media’s attitude towards public schools.

An underlying tone suggests they can’t support or provide for students in the same way as wealthier private or their more academically-endowed selective counterparts (e.g.). Public schools are not quite good enough.

Thinking about it, when are public schools ever the ones held in higher esteem with the other sectors striving to be like them? Rather, a discourse around ‘deficit’ magnifies the under-funding, under-resourcing and under-staffing of public schools.

Is a rapidly weakening ‘Gonski’ model going to fix this? Unlikely.

Is the Australian education system ever going to achieve the same results as is seen in the highly regarded education systems of Finland and Singapore? Not unless significant structural or philosophical changes are made to our education system as a whole.

However, let’s not forget we do currently have a system that is working for most of our students and is in fact relatively strongly rated in an international setting. Australia’s high levels of secondary and tertiary educational attainment and scores that are amongst the top in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are a testament to this.

In recognition of these strengths, my next five posts will focus on different successes that are apparent either in my own school or public schools more generally. They will be a celebration of the innovation, collegiality and hard work from staff and students that often goes unacknowledged outside the school grounds.