Friday (week 7, term 1)

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think the measure of a very good teacher is a teacher who has been given every opportunity to give their students the opportunity to reach their full potential. So I think a great teacher should have time in their class to actually teach… I want to give you the opportunity, if we get elected, to have the time to teach your students the English, the history, the geography, the maths that you want to teach them, the basic skills.

Although I don’t fully follow this comment by Mr Pyne, I sense that according to his definition I would not be “a very good teacher”.

On Friday I gave a class a test. One student handed back a blank test. Others gave it a good shot. One or two showed excellent understanding of the content.

There are 26 students on my roll. On any given day, however, about 20 will show up. Have I been given every opportunity to give my students the opportunity to reach their full potential? (That apparently being the indicator of good teaching!)

My goal for this class is to help them to progress 1.5 years in their learning – two if I can really succeed – in the space of a year. Currently, they are on average four years behind where they should be.

Does this mean that every maths teacher that has preceded me has failed to “have time in their class to actually teach”? Clearly these students do not know the basics. To outrightly say that these predecessors are not great teachers, would be a simple statement. It would be unfair to not give them the benefit of the doubt that they have tried and that, in fact, the needs of these students are deeply multi-faceted and not at all straightforward.

I hope that Mr Pyne, as with others in the public domain, hold their tongue before blindly pouncing on this notion of teacher quality. Certainly, it is fundamental that teachers have particular capabilities in order to carry out their work to some degree of success. But let us not assume that these capabilities are fixed within teachers (and from the moment they begin their university degree). Instead, we should assume that teachers, as with others, hold the potential for change and development.

It would also be misguided, of course, to assume that all student success or failure rests in the hands of the teacher. By recognising the teacher as a facilitator, it is possible to see that a student’s trajectory of learning and achievement is necessarily beyond the means of that one adult. Even if it is just the possibility of providing students with rich learning opportunities “to reach their full potential”, sometimes this is only something we can hope for.


Week 7 recollections: from the macro to the micro

In between the news broadcasts that bandy about phrases such as “school improvement” , “teacher quality”, “educational disadvantage” and “Great Teaching, Inspired Learning”, another average week in a public secondary school has passed by.

Through this flow of language that is more an onslaught of words and opinions than meaningful dialogue, I have started to hear an underlying current of who the politicians and journalists claim to be speaking for. In the position of privilege that I have frequently found myself in, I am now straddling two worlds. I am that teacher with disadvantaged kids in the classroom. The teacher at a rural school. The teacher in their first few years in the profession. The teacher over whom they are arguing and speaking authoritatively about. They have claimed my voice and are using it as a billion-dollar football.

Over the next week I will be posting some recollections of small, albeit meaningful, events that littered my week 7, term 1 2013. Each day I will also take a step back from my own experiences and bring into the picture snippets from last Monday’s Q&A education debate between Peter Garrett and Christopher Pyne.