She’ll be right – until it’s not

One of the blokes in the office today was talking about his educational beliefs and the conversation was just getting good when the siren went. The best part about it was that other people in the office didn’t agree with his argument. That sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s one of the things I like about my colleagues; we don’t agree on everything but everyone feels comfortable voicing their opinion.
Anyway, the initial point raised was that the Australian education system is inadequate and doesn’t encourage students to learn it just prepares them to be ‘good’ workers. He made comparisons between our results and those of European and Asian countries and claimed that our standards are poor when set side by side with theirs.

No one in the office disagreed with that; there’s research that says he’s right (although, if I was playing Devil’s advocate I’d say that there’s research to prove any point you wish to make).

The main point of contention was that he believed it was the fault of the system and other people thought it was symptomatic of our culture. Some agreed that, in following the American system, we were always destined to underperform. I, on the other hand, feel that the system is almost irrelevant if society doesn’t respect our educators.

Let me explain.

I’ve been teaching for 12 years or so and the system has changed 4 (or more) times over that period. We’re not stagnant, there are clearly efforts being made to address our deficiencies. Admittedly, some of these efforts/decisions are made by people who have been out of the classroom for too long and have seemingly forgotten what it’s truly like. I’d also suggest that some of the desired skills for 21st Century learners are skills many of us have always taught – note that skills are not to be confused with content (eg. spelling rules, essay structure, viewing codes and conventions, etc.).

The biggest problem I’ve faced in my classrooms is actually the Australian way of life.
We have this laid back attitude that sometimes takes the ‘hard at work or hardly working’ too far. If you need proof, you only need to look at the fact that Victoria has decreed Melbourne Cup day a public holiday as a response to the sheer number of people that historically take a sickie on that day. I’ve taught a number of talented, intelligent students but even they were guilty of work avoidance and half-assed approaches to their learning.

That’s ok. She’ll be right.

Which is a further aspect of that problem. Australian’s a stereotypically positive. We have this ‘no worries’ approach to much of our lives. This is fine if you have no worries because you’ve considered all possibilities and have a contingency plan, it’s not fine if you have no worries because you don’t care what happens. It’s amazing the number of students who think they will walk straight into the work force or will magically develop a work ethic over the school holidays.

This sounds critical of the students but it’s not their fault, they are products of their society after all. We need to change our attitudes towards teachers and schools.

I love my sport but we place far greater value on anyone who is vaguely coordinated than anyone vaguely academic. The gap doesn’t need to close completely it just needs to lessen.
We also need to do away with those notions that hurt the teaching profession. The majority of us don’t do it for the holidays or the supposed shorter work days; we don’t do it because we failed at something else – “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. The majority of us legitimately want to to make a difference. We want to improve your children’s lives and, by extension, the world.

If we don’t respect our teachers then our children won’t either. Our job already makes us feel like Sisyphus and each disrespectful student increases the size of the rock we are perpetually pushing up hill.

To paraphrase John Lennon, give teach a chance.

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