It's time to get our priorities straight

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

What if we could all just change the world a little? Make it a place of wonder, excitement and intrigue. Bring education back to its roots. A place to learn, evolve, be challenged. What a beautiful world we could create. A world I so desperately wanted to create when I started teaching bright eyed 7 years ago.

Except that’s not reality.

Reality is that schools are forced to put fences up and install buzzers to prevent undesirables (read: aggressive parents) from entering school grounds. Turning them into jails almost to protect students but more importantly teachers. Parents that are angry their child is being bullied without accepting the fact their child is, in fact, the bully. Parents who don’t think you’re doing your job right. Parents who are arrogant and claim they know how to teach better than teachers themselves. Except they don’t. Because all that anger and disrespect that gets hurled at teachers and schools everyday is being transplanted into your child. The sponge standing next to you and absorbing all the negativity you're spewing.

Reality is schools are becoming businesses. Principals being forced to become managers-managers of finances and managers of people. They aren’t trained for that. And that’s not a principal’s job anyway. Principals are meant to inspire, lead their staff, ensure professional learning is current and provide support for their teachers so they can successfully achieve learning outcomes for their students.

Reality is schools are relying so heavily on data and regular (to the point of unachievable) updates that teachers are drowning. Imagine a school where every teacher professional learning session is on data. Not innovative maths strategies, not engaging literacy activities, not on how to motivate and inspire students. Data. What a way to drag a school down and demotivate the teachers employed there.

These musings run through my mind on a daily basis. Back and forth until it all seems too complicated and I feel like giving up on teaching for good. Except I really feel that these issues need to be shared, openly discussed and debated if anything is going to change.

So what are our priorities? For me, my priority is always the emotional wellbeing of the student. Emotional MUST come before academic. For me, there is no other sequence. A student must feel comfortable and safe enough to participate in lessons and become an active learner of the class. For a long time, I felt I did this successfully and managed to encourage even the shyest of students to participate and present in front of the class. I remember one student in particular. Let's call her Samantha. Samantha moved to Australia when she was eight years old. In fact, she came from Iraq as a refugee. Although she didn't remember much from her birth country, she suffered anxiety and was often too afraid to tackle challenging tasks out of fear she would get it wrong. Throughout the year, I observed this student go from one who could hardly put pen to paper without asking for help to one who could successfully write a page independently by the end of the year. Each time she would come to me for help, I would either send her away or offer her strategies for what she could do to successfully complete a task. This had to happen consistently as it was the only way her confidence would ever grow. At the end of the year, I called Samantha over to my desk and asked her to show me her writing book. We compared her writing from the beginning of the year to the end and the look of accomplishment and pride that spread across her face was priceless. This is why I became a teacher. That look of achievement and ultimately confidence to go and tackle the next hurdle is why I love teaching.

Let's break this apart a little further so you can get a sense of what I mean when I say we must get our priorities straight. Samantha was a Year 5 student at the time. If I looked at data entry alone, Samantha was working at a Year 3 level for reading and writing and a Year 2 level for maths. Doesn't sound that great does it? Except I know how impressive it was. For a student like her to come into a western culture of teaching at the age of eight and having to pull apart so many of the psychological issues that created roadblocks for her, it is great. That is the role of the teacher. To inspire, to motivate and ensure students realise their achievements

So why does the government keep pumping money into this quest for data and standardised testing like NAPLAN? Wouldn't it be more useful to employ more counsellors, more support teachers so students no longer fall through the cracks but are emotionally supported to achieve their goals? And not the goals of a 'Year 5 student' but rather their individual goals and their individual successes. You can't just lump all students into one category and then get upset when they don't all fit into that basket. That is not the student's fault. That is a fundamental fault of the system.