“For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution, and it’s always wrong”.
While it’s been a long time since the columnist H. L. Mencken made this observation, it rings true today, particularly when it comes to the endeavour of education.
The recent PISA results regarding student achievement have provoked some comment and debate but nothing much will come of it all. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s late in the year and attention is shifting to Christmas, holidays and the New Year, not to mention bushfires and matters of economy. By the new year, something else will surface for immediate attention. Secondly, education is complex.
In response to the PISA results some rightly point to the place, status, pay and expertise of teachers. Others have commented on the curriculum, NAPLAN testing, technology and Gonski. These are all matters of importance. They need to be addressed but ultimately they miss the point.
The solution to unlocking and encouraging good education is relationship. In fact the ecology of relationships needs to be understood. Otherwise any reform will only continue to do damage.
In the classroom the relationship between teacher, student and subject is what matters. It determines the outcomes. Understanding this and what affects it is crucial.
Too many people who think they know what should be taught, and how it should be taught, have undue influence on the curriculum. Whether they be politicians, business people, commentators or academics, if they aren’t teachers, they need to listen and hesitate to speak. Only the professionals in the classroom have real understanding of student learning. I can’t remember any educational reform being driven by teachers, let alone teachers being seriously listened to.
Educational bureaucracy can too easily undermine teachers work before they enter the classroom. Bureaucrats need to be in the service of education. To be in the service of facilitating learning, enabling, supporting, encouraging and recognising good teaching would be a wonderful thing. Too much bureaucracy is in the service of bureaucracy and bureaucrats.
Teachers are they key to good education. They need to be better compensated. This is not simply about pay scales. Too many teachers are too overloaded too much of the time. Teachers work needs to be de-intensified, uncluttered and unencumbered. Teaching is demanding. Most teachers love their work and care for their students. Preparation, planning, marking, reporting and co-curricula activities are only the top of the iceberg for teachers. While these things are out of sight, their effect on teachers needs to be front of mind when reforming teaching.
Too many important decision makers and influencers either have no real understanding of the classroom or they are refugees from the classroom.
Teaching is a calling. Most people don’t become teachers because they are not cut out for it. Teachers have gifts that fit their calling to teach. Teaching is not a just job, it affects students lives for a lifetime. The work is good, noble and honourable as are most of the teachers I have worked with across the country and all over the world.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
― David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World
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Dr Michael Downey is an Author, Teacher, Consultant, Retreat Leader & Workshop Facilitator. ,