In many industries there are often times of great ‘change’ and upheaval. Unfortunately, education is rarely one of those.
While systems of schools often respond to various needs or pressures in their country or community, the way we teach children has not ‘radically’ altered in the past century. This understanding is used by many popular ‘heroes’ of education, such as Sir Ken Robinson, as a platform to call for substantial reform.
There are compelling arguments both for reforms and for a continuation of traditions. Different research in education will point to various solutions and can be frustrating to read as a new educator. This is mostly due to the dubious nature of some research and the question of ‘can this work in my school context’.
From what I’ve read and experienced this year, it is clear that there are some standard practices that work well for many, while others stop children from learning in a way that works for them. Ultimately, systems don’t have the funding to completely differentiate for every child.
However, this is where the challenge for new educators begins.
Before starting teaching, I had read many inspiring books, stories and examples of innovative teaching. I’d visited a number of charter schools and ones in Australia who were doing something ‘special’. I was excited.
I was then faced with the reality of teaching in a high school. The various and ever-changing pressures from departments, school executive, other teachers, parents, and of course, the students. It was confusing and confronting.
Many of the exciting ideas faded away for a while as I adjusted to the school environment. But now, they are back and some of the frustrations I’ve had with teaching and schooling have fuelled a desire to embark upon a ‘revolution’ that Robinson calls for.
But… is that the best idea?
The question I have been asking myself is: how ‘revolutionary’ should teachers really be when teaching in a standardised system? If I start letting students complete elaborate creative tasks, drop all tests and respond to every student in an individual way, will they miss out on preparing for the standardised assessment used to determine their entrance into university?
I’m currently teaching Year 9 and 10 students in the ACT public system where students attend high school from Y7-10 and then transition to ‘college’. Colleges are separate Y11 & 12 schools with university-like feel to them. No uniform, attendance only required when classes are on and a highly independent learning experience.
I love to constantly trial and test many of the interesting ideas I’ve read in blogs, books and websites. However, I also have a responsibility to be preparing students to do well in college.
I say to my students that I love all of their dreams, what ever they are. I think it’s incredible that they all have different ideas and aspirations. But what I want for them is: that by the time they finish schooling in the ACT, they will be able to choose what ever it is they want to do. That their choices won’t be limited by their decisions during school, or by a system that didn’t work for them.
To live this out, I believe it is important to start with good relationships and then be responsive to students’ needs. However, while doing this, it is important for teachers to be honest with themselves, and with the students.
Yes, if you work hard, there are many pathways to success. Look at Gates, DeGeneres and Branson. However, there is a set way of doing things in education. While in the system, we can’t forget where we are.
I want to be an experimenter and an explorer. I want to challenge students perceptions of what is right and wrong, and enable them to always think for themselves. However, I also want to make sure they can do incredibly well in our system, to be able to walk into a standardised test with confidence, write great essays and of course, speak well.
Does the system rule how we teach, or does out teaching shape the system…? This is the challenge. How can we challenge the system, use new methods and be responsive to our students needs, while ensuring they can succeed within it.