Why be a teacher?
Having had the benefit of being a teacher for over 30 years, I have reflected on why I have remained in this role for so long.
While children may refer to me as a teacher, I prefer the broader term “educationalist”. “Why the name change? It is a reflection of one of the big changes in educational practices. The traditional role of a teacher was to transmit as much of their knowledge as possible to a group of passive students. The student’s job was to acquire as much of the teacher’s knowledge as possible. An educationalist role is wider. It’s is more akin to equipping students with a toolbox of skills so that they can explore, innovate and make discoveries, developing expertise and understanding of the world around them and how things work, so that they can become successful life-long learners.
This is but one change in education.
I have seen a lot in my time in the classroom. I’ve seen children who are stunning and children who do not fit well in a classroom setting. There are children who will be national leaders and those who will likely enter our prison system. There are students who will be amazing parents and will pass on all the advantages of their own life experiences so that their own children will be successful, and those that make life choices that will be unhelpful to the next generation of students arriving at our school gates.
Many of the changes over the last 30 years, reflect both societal change and developments in educational theory. In past times our teachers tended to be more highly regarded and respected in the community, and teachers often took on additional leadership roles in the community. However as the demands and workload associated with being an educator have risen exponentially, for many, the energy and time available for community roles have diminished.
Another change I have noted involves the non-traditional types of families children are growing up in. There has been a rise of grandparents parenting. Some family arrangements are very complex and have associated challenges, especially where the relationship between birth parents is acrimonious. There has been a rise of incidents where parents will defend a child’s poor behaviour, and we are all aware of times parents have taken court cases against schools when the school has tried to maintain discipline for the sake of the student body.
At times, I feel that my teaching job is also a parenting job – teaching children what manners are, what a healthy relationship with peers looks like, and how our boys can be respectful of the girls in preparation for when they are teenagers and adults.
Getting parental support for school events has become more challenging. Just as there appear to be fewer volunteers for wider community organisations, we often see fewer parents involved in school activities such as the PTA or school trips and camps.
Technological change has affected education, as it has all of society, and offers an exciting new future for our children. While I am in the camp that believes computer devices can help student learning by giving access to vast amounts of information to explore, I also see that, for some, it is a distraction.
What hasn’t changed, however, is what is at the heart of teaching. That is our role in shaping young lives…to work with families, so that, as our 1940 Director of Education Clarence Beeby stated, “every person, regardless of background or ability, has a right to an education of a type for which they were best suited”. This statement is what I hold to as an educationalist. While what this looks like has changed reflecting societal change, for me it is a statement I believe to be true is a schooling system that will serve our children well.
It does however highlight a basic underlying problems with the current governments assessment regime of National Standards. National standards assume that all children will be academic and reach the same stage and acquire the same skills at the same age and at the same time. It means some children who are talented as musicians, sportsmen or have practical skills that will see them in various highly skilled trades, are discounted when success is so narrowly defined – in other words, National Standards do not fit with the intent of what Beeby asserted because they do not recognise those who are ‘other skilled’.
The challenges as an educationalist are huge and at times overwhelming. But the rewards can be immense.
When you meet up with past students and hear their stories of what they have made of themselves, there is a quiet satisfaction knowing you have been part of their journey.
Often they will make a comment starting with “I remember when” and remind you of a significant incident that has impacted them, a life lesson they have carried with them. Such incidents affirm the indeed we are shaping lives, and preparing today’s children for the future that lies ahead. Being a part of that is a privilege and why I have remained so long in the education scene.