I wrote this some years ago when education – specifically boys’ education – was in the spotlight. Now it appears that education and teachers – or the lack thereof – are newsworthy again:
After 30 years of teaching I resigned. I absolutely loved teaching but there comes a time when you just want your weekends to yourself. Here’s my take on education.
There are many stakeholders in the field of education – teachers, parents, peer groups as well as the Department of Education all have varying expectations and influences over a student. But the most influential stakeholder is probably society itself, deciding which achievements matter and who gets to be celebrated.
Ask the man in the street how many footy players he can name or who his personal sporting hero is. And who couldn’t easily name a dozen athletes in the recent Commonwealth Games? Our love of sport and worship of sports stars suggests that society deems success on the field much more important than academic achievement. In fact, television studios devote almost half the news time to reporting on sporting results and fixtures.
Now ask that same man in the street to name a half dozen famous academics. How many could you name? Sporting stars and legends are all well and good but why does academic achievement attract much less celebration – or even interest?
My point is that a lot of kids won’t value or strive towards academic excellence until we do.
Towards the end of last century, when parents were becoming increasingly unhappy with students’ school results the Education Department came up with the perfect solution to students’ poor performance. They re-classified it as good performance.
Teachers were no longer allowed to use negative comments in reporting exam results and marks and position in class were promptly banned. Suddenly we were told to use positive outcome statements like, “Johnny can now tie his shoe laces”. Of course, this statement ignored the fact that Johnny was 17 and studying for his HSC.
The Department’s justification for this cover-up was that it protected students’ feelings – the child who came last could avoid a failure label as long as no one knew. Unfortunately, it also robbed parents of important factual information and, perhaps saddest of all, it denied any celebration of students, who came first.
While exam reporting became insipid and meaningless (all the while, with the blessing of the Teachers’ Federation), thankfully the same approach was not applied to school sports, where apparently it was okay for students to fail. Winners were reported as winners and losers were frankly, well, losers…… all without any apparent long term damage to their psychological well-being.
So here’s my advice:
Know your educational strengths and weaknesses.
Feel good about your strengths. Work on your weaknesses.
Ask questions in class when you don’t understand.
Hang out with other students, who want to get ahead.
Don’t become part of the “It’s cool to be a fool” crowd.
Don’t carry on in class when you don’t get your own way. That only works at home.
If you have a problem with a teacher, see them privately and politely explain the problem.
Choose school subjects that interest you – not ones that your friends are choosing.
Don’t ask your parents to do your assignments for you. They’ve already been to school. Plus, it’s embarrassing when your teachers correct their spelling.
Praise your child’s sporting achievements but praise their school achievements as well, no matter how small.
Foster a desire for learning.
Set an example – question your child about their day. Check their homework. Be interested.
Train your children to accept clear, consistent instructions. Don’t use threats like “I’m counting to three” or “Don’t do that again” if you don’t intend to follow through. That just makes a teacher’s job so much harder because it sends a message that arguing wins in the end……… that “No” means “Yes” or at least “Maybe”.
Attend Parent-Teacher meetings.
Don’t belittle their teachers in front of them. If there’s an issue, ring the school and make an appointment.
Don’t blame ADHD for all their bad behaviour – accept that maybe they’re not always angels.
Remember that ‘bad’ students are not really out to destroy your day.
You’re just on different sides of the field – your job is to make them work while their job is to stop you. Don’t take it personally.
Find some common ground – something positive. No student is all bad – maybe you both like cats.. or cartoons or snakes…..
Be fair. Don’t take your bad mood out on the class but if you do (because you’re human), apologise later. Admit when you’re in the wrong. Don’t expect kids to admit their mistakes if you can’t.
Celebrate your academics as well as your sporting ‘greats’. Value study, research and academic ability as much as stamina and physical prowess.
Don’t expect less of kids from single or low-income families. Don’t categorise them. They might just surprise you.
My two sons work as an electro-chemist and a computer analyst/ programmer. No one ever told them that they weren’t supposed to succeed because their parents were divorced.
Of course, some of my suggestions might be outdated in 2022. Plus, as I said, I was writing in response to a symposium on boys’ education. But if I could add one more suggestion, it would be to ban the practice of teachers teaching outside their subject area – in order to “fit” with the school’s timetable. That adds a ridiculous amount of stress to a teacher’s workload and that’s definitely not good for education.