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Class Sizes, Good Teaching, Government Policy, Teacher Cuts

The Complexities of Teaching


The celebrated American educator, Lee Shulman compared the work of medical practitioners and teachers.  He noted that a teacher is confronted not with a single patient, but with a room filled with youngsters.

He gives the example of a primary school reading lesson in which “the teacher must simultaneously be concerned with the learning of decoding skills, with motivation and love of reading as well as word-attack, and must both monitor the performance of the six or eight students in front of her while not losing touch with the other two dozen in the room.

“Moreover, individual differences among pupils are a fact of life, exacerbated even further by the worthwhile policy of mainstreaming… The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster” (p.258).

 Reference:  The Wisdom of Practice (2004). Shulman, L.S.


This anecdote is not to diminish the critical work of medical practitioners but to affirm the complex work of teachers.  What is more, we need to recognise that teaching is more than just an intellectual activity.  In a very busy workplace teaching has complex emotional and social dimensions as well.

As a society, we need to view educational achievement in its broadest context.  We all expect that children and young people have an inalienable right to enjoy their education, to feel respected and accepted by their teacher, to be able to form a warm and meaningful relationship with a valued adult outside the domain of parents and whānau.

If teachers are to be able to do this, we need to provide appropriate support and resources for this vital task.

Reference: Warming the Emotional Climate of the Primary Classroom (2012). Evans, I.M. & Harvey, S.T.

(Reproduced from a New Zealand Teachers Council Newsletter, received by email 3.6.12)

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