Monday, 27 January 2014

Guestie: Being Brilliant in the Classroom

Many thanks to an anonymous teacher who emailed this in.

Teachers often bemoan a lack of funding for education.
Yet I suspect I'm not the only teacher feeling deeply uneasy about the $359 million the government is planning to spend in education over the next four years. 
For teachers to complain of such an huge investment seems at best ungrateful and at worst, a confirmation of every stereotype of the unionised teacher out there: unwilling to compromise, stubborn and arrogant.
After all, why are we paying our worst teachers the same as our very best?
And there in lies the deep ideological divide between many in the teaching profession and the government. 
Because underpinning the initiative of lead teachers, change principals is a philosophy that talent is something innate which needs to be recognised and rewarded rather than something that is constantly being developed and nurtured.
It strikes me as odd that when it comes to our kids the government has embraced the vision that all children can learn. That it's s  a matter of good teaching that will, to borrow a talking point, ensure five out of five kids are achieving.
Yet when it comes to managing those entrusted with educating our kids, talent is in short supply. 
Good teachers need titles to make change and in the words of the Prime Minster "we are going to pay them more to get it."
To me this isn't good enough.
We should want expert teachers in front of all our kids and that's what we should paying to get.
Fortunately most teachers will quite happily admit that they themselves are still learning. More importantly, teachers will learn from anyone be it a 1st year teacher, an  internationally renowned expert and most importantly their students. Teachers know that what works for one group of kids will not automatically transfer to another.
Just as each kid has their own personality so too each class and school. The danger in paying to get results from super teachers is that it assumes the process of teaching and learning can be standardised - follow what the expert teacher to get results - when it needs to be personalised.
I know I'm not the only teacher who has taken an idea from an expert at a conference or a classroom observation and tried to implement it in class only to have it fail miserably. But then I adjust a few things and make the idea work for my learners or I try a new approach. Yes expertise is important but  just as important is that teachers know how to tweak best practice to fit the needs of the kids in my class.
It's what the New Zealand curriculum calls teaching as inquiry and what high achieving systems  strive for - all teachers need to be experts in how their students learn. 
On a more structural level teachers as a professional acutely feel the effects of income inequality in New Zealand. Even at the high decile school I worked at there were teachers dipping into their own funds for food, trips and schools. 
Throwing millions into establishing an executive level of educators won't help the 11 year old in tears because there are holes in their shoes and no money in the house until payday.
Yes teaching quality is the biggest in-school factor in, to borrow another sound byte, lifting student achievement. However it is those out of school factors, having enough food to eat, secure housing to avoid transience as well as sickness and above all a feeling of love and belonging which  have a far greater impact on our kids' learning. 
I'm sure my rant might easily be construed as jealousy - if I'm not going to get recognised and rewarded then no one else should.
However I don't actually have any skin in the game as I no longer teach in New Zealand. 
Would this announcement be enough to lure me home in the next few years?
While my prime motive for moving overseas is for travel, the support and resources I now enjoy are well beyond what the education system in New Zealand is resourced to provide. There is more admin support, specialist help, a smaller class and more release time. I am still as busy as I ever was back home however I am now far more focused on teaching and learning.
Because while money is important, the most important resource for teachers is their time.
Rather than injecting a few thousand super teachers into our education system how about focusing on ensuring that every teacher and more importantly every child is supported to be brilliant in the classroom?


Hugh said...

Hear hear

I'm another teacher who also doesn't teach in NZ, but this is all very new to me.

The 'problems'* facing New Zealand's education system are actually very simple. Lack of teachers, and student poverty.

The latter can't really be solved by education policy, it's a wider economic problem. It can be mitigated to a certain extent, like with the Greens' school lunch idea, but ultimately poor kids are going to have a harder time than rich kids and there is no way to prevent this without addressing their poverty.

The former can be addressed by providing more teachers, so that each teacher can dedicate more time to prep, giving extra help to students who fall behind or excel, and so on. The government's ideologically opposed to this.

*I say 'problems' because NZ's education system, even considering the recent decline, is still good by first world standards. The perception that it's in crisis comes from the rather unfortunate position of the concept of education in society - it is on the one hand expected to provide a solution to basically every concievable problem, and on the other hand it is very receptive to moral panics and displaced bourgeois anxieties. But having said that, it isn't perfect, so I don't have a problem with the fact that the government wants to improve it. Their methods, on the other hand, suck.

tl:dr - The 'Great Man' theory doesn't work in education any more than in history.

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to accept that this poster has the interests of the greater good at heart when they abandoned NZ to teach other children where the "resources are better."

If you really felt community-minded, you would have stayed.

My 2cents.

A Former Teacher

Hugh said...

@Anonymous: Any education policy which requires on teachers to martyr themselves for the good of the nation as a whole is dead on arrival.

the fresh gardener said...

Put simply, the new policy disadvantages the already disadvantaged. Poor kids are up against it in the education system because of thd social issues they face, through no fault of their own. If teachers are paid based on student results, surely they will flock to schools where the community is wealthy and it's so much easier to support children to get good results. Less good teachers in low decile communities. Just what we need, thanks National.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 5.16. To bleat on about passion but then chase the money seems two faced. I have no issue with chasing money but my experience of teachers has been that the good ones were doing it for other than the money.

I also think its appalling to virtually condemn poorer kids to failure because they are poor. They are up against a stigma before they start because no-one has expectations they can succeed.

Taita College had a pretty bad reputation some years ago but a great principal turned that around by having simple expectations about behaviour. The same kids (although bolstered by a bunch of local middle class families that would have looked elswhere before the change)still went and home may still have been crap but they developed some pride in themselves. It showed.

Much of the problem is related to, in my view, poor parenting and money won't fix that.