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.

It’s the little wins

Before starting teaching, I was told by a number of people in the profession that “It’s the little wins that makes teaching so special”; this is the reason why, as many have quoted to me, they love the job.  Today, I was fortunate enough to have two of them.

The first came towards the start of the day, during one of my more difficult classes.  In this class, I often feel like it is a battle to get some students to open their book, let alone complete the assigned work.  Homework completion is patchy at best.  The class is dominated by boys, and includes a well-intentioned but disruptive and easily distracted group of five.  At the end of today’s class, one of these boys came up to me to chat about the work currently being done.   Of his own accord, he told me that would like to be doing more textbook work, and in fact, would like me to set some more work for him to go on with at home.

The second moment of celebration came prior to the start of another class.  Chatting to the students outside the classroom, I asked them what they had learnt in yesterday’s class.  I had been out visiting another school for the day, so the lesson was taken by a casual relief teacher (CRT).  While the responses produced from some students was in no way worthy of celebration, two students stepped forward and handed me hand-written and signed notes.  In these, the students apologised for not completing the assigned work on stem-and-leaf plots (“pea pods or whatever they are”) from the previous day, as they – and the CRT – did not understand the activity.  Instead, as their notes explained, the two students went on with textbook work, Mathletics and maths games.

While there is still much I have to learn in this profession, these small wins have given me optimism that I’m stepping in the right direction.