Teachers face a never-ending conveyor belt streaming negative news and new initiatives straight to our desks, each new thing vying for our attention and time. What are we to do?
Do we focus on the latest research on literacy or the changes to teacher appraisal? Do we read the news story about the sacked Principal or the one about the latest Novopay cock-up? Do we attend that great PD session being offered, or go to the union meeting? Do we scan over the figures for what charter schools are being paid or spend the time trying to persuade our own students’ parents to pay a donation?
We can’t keep up with it all, because on top of all that there are actual students that need our time. And they win out, always.
As an example of things bombarding NZ educators just now, we have:
There are more things but, really, I think you get the picture.
This is a teacher’s lot. We are trying to focus on planning lessons, marking, differentiating, learning about this or that disorder we think may be affecting a student in our class, attending meetings, collecting evidence that we are doing our job, up-skilling, organising trips, taking after-school clubs, and – yes – actually teaching. And on top of everything, there’s this pile of stuff pressing down.
I’ll say it again, it’s exhausting. And stressful.
I wonder whether, just for a while at least, the powers that be would consider just letting us leach?
Too much to ask?
~ Dianne Khan
Every week the list grows longer as great teachers resign and leave the profession forever due to the crazy path that education is being pushed down by politicians.
In England and the USA there have been many highly public resignations outlining just exactly why the reforms have pushed teachers to say “No more.”
It’s sad not just because these good teachers are lost to the profession, and not just for them personally, but because these teachers are leaving because what they are being forced to do in the name of education is not beneficial to students.
It makes me both incredibly cross and very sad to know that unless something drastic changes, it’s only a matter of time before New Zealand starts to see a flurry of the same.
Here is Lucy Fey’s resignation letter:
” Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to thank you for teaching me so much about education. I have been a primary school teacher for 14 years and have always worked in challenging, inner city schools with many children who have complex behavioural and emotional needs. According to my performance management, I am an ‘outstanding’ teacher. I feel that over the last few years my skills have diversified considerably.
I am proud to be able to say that each year my pupils’ achievement and attainment have improved. I have become skilled at pinpointing what they need to learn and prioritising their experiences to ensure they succeed in the core subjects. Sacrifices have had to be made but, despite what they would like you to believe, there is not a single pupil who has not wanted to achieve and be successful.
The last few years in particular, my job has become even more varied. As we no longer have any external support and advice to help us, we have learned ‘on the job’ how to be counsellors, behaviour specialists, social workers and mental health workers.
We use our instincts when dealing with children with complex emotional and behavioural needs. We do everything we can, but you never can tell without the training. Hopefully those children experiencing extreme difficulties will pick up how to become good citizens and be able to live within, and contribute to, the community.
I can only hope that they will know how to create a supportive and nurturing environment for their own children to succeed in the future. Maybe they will feel confident and proud of their achievements despite the lack of professional, quality specialists available to support their own complex needs in their formative years.
Until recently, I was not adept at data analysis. I now know that the pupils we are teaching are not simply children, they are numbers, percentages. The hours I have spent analysing data to decide which children need intensive afternoon intervention groups, those who need that extra ‘boost.’ Those children do not take part in the afternoon history, geography, art, science, music, PE or RE lessons as they are struggling with maths, reading and writing.
They understand that they must miss out on subjects they are more likely to engage with, feel confident in, so they have the opportunity to achieve the required level in writing, reading and maths. They spend all day, every day struggling. Slowly feeling more and more like a failure, becoming more and more disengaged.
It is amazing that every one of my pupils knows what level they are working at and what level they need to be at the end of the year. Children are so desperate to achieve and to please others that they naturally put themselves under a huge amount of pressure. If they are not working at age related expectations they believe they are not doing well despite the amazing progress they have made.
They are in tears. They feel the pressure. They know they are not where they ‘should’ be. They know already, at primary school, that they may not be ‘successful’ in the future. They know that the only subjects worth anything are reading, writing and maths. They know that their options are limited.
A big part of teaching is, and always has been, acting. You draw your audience in; encourage them to take part and to be inspired, challenged and enthusiastic about what they are discovering.
There is nothing better than a class full of buzzing pupils, excited about what they are learning, taking ownership of the lesson. This is becoming increasingly hard to achieve when we expect so much from them. There is little time to have fun, to enquire, to be intrigued, to be children. They have too much pressure. They must, “compete with the world’s best.”
Why are we not letting them grow as individuals? Why are we damaging their self-esteem and confidence by trying to make them all fit into the same box? To ensure a successful future for our country we need to give children a broad, balanced curriculum which enables everyone to excel at what they are good at. They need to feel empowered and valued for their individual skills to be able to take risks and push the boundaries to be successful.
How is that possible if they have had a restricted education? How will all those talented people who are not necessarily ‘academic’ excel in their different industries if they were not given the opportunity to hone their skills throughout their education? How will this improve our country? What sort of adults will they turn in to? I know I never had those pressures when I was a child.
I handed my notice in last week. I can’t do this to them anymore.
How sad that New Zealand is following on with reforms that are wreaking this kind of havoc.
We need to be asking who is driving this push and why, before there are no more Lucy Feys left.
This is a 7 year old child. Here she is feeling the pressure to be great, to excel, to not get left behind, not be put in extra help. She has internalised the message that she is being graded – you have to get everything right. Her mother has told her it’s okay to leave the problem, but she won’t. Is this what education is about? Her mother thinks not, I think not, what about you?
This child’s mother writes:
This is my daughter … I want to take a moment to explain this image so as those who do not know me, can understand how this image came to be.
I am a photographer, a hobby farmer, a child advocate and a mother of 3 elementary-aged children. This is my middle child in the photo … she is 7 and is in 2nd grade. My kindergartner and my 4th grader were already finished with their homework and had left the table. I had brought my camera in to work on my white balance skills while shooting in low light as I had a session the next morning to prep for.
After checking her work, I had found 2 math problems were incorrect. I tried to help her understand where she went wrong through her process but I don’t understand it myself and was not much help.
I told her to forget about it and we’d try again tomorrow but she became very upset that she could not get the answer and kept trying and trying to fix it. She is hard on herself as she very much wants to excel in school and not be pulled for extra help all of the time. I was talking to her and clicking my camera as I changed settings … it’s something that is very common in our household … and that is when I caught this image.
Please know that 5 minutes later I had convinced her to leave the homework behind and go snuggle with her dad on the couch and watch some Olympics coverage. She is not neglected. She was not abused or left alone to cry. And this photo was not staged.
This is America with the Common Core. It will be here in New Zealand soon if we continue to focus only on standards and benchmarks for our primary school children.
Let them learn. Let them enjoy. Let them grow.