Why teachers didn’t get a mention in Bob Dylan’s 1964 hit song is a mystery to me. Writers, parents and politicians are mentioned and of course they are important, but surely great teachers are significant instruments of change.

That teaching as a profession has changed in the decades since the tumultuous 60s is undeniable. Like all change, some has been good, some not so much.

Some change even seems contradictory. In Australia, the US and the UK for instance, the increasing professionalisation of teaching seems to have increased while at the same time respect and appreciation of teachers has decreased.

Some Good Changes.

Authoritarian teacher to learning facilitator.

Thankfully in most places, the rigid placement of carefully aligned rows of desks, all facing toward the front has been replaced by seating arrangements more suited to co-operative learning. We understand that children learn best when they are involved in the process, when they can research and exchange ideas.

This type of learning environment was a natural response to the understanding that learning had to be student centred and that children were more than simply empty vessels to be stuffed full of facts and figures. This will lead we hope to adults who can show initiative. Who won’t stand meekly waiting for someone to tell them what to do or worse, what to think. Classrooms may be a little more chaotic but it is worth it.

Text Books to Texts.

As English and literature teachers, being able to use actual written and film texts to teach language has been a huge move forward. I know there are still places that use text-books, I am just not sure why. I can understand having a number of such books available in the staffroom when teachers are looking for ideas or questions, however, as a learning tool they just are boring. Not a word I like to use but there really isn’t a better one.

Engaging students with wonderfully written pieces of literature which encourage them to become readers is far more effective. I never could understand how a short excerpt in a text book, followed by routinely unimaginative questions, could turn a reluctant reader around.

In saying this, I admit that it may be different in the junior classes and I would be interested to hear the opinion of Middle School teachers.

The Not So Good

Generalist not Specialist.

Okay, these things we know:

      • Schools have dwindling budgets.
      • There are increased legal supervision requirements.
      • Subject experts don’t always make good teachers.

However,  we also know:

      • Just because you can speak English doesn’t mean you can teach it.
      • Good classroom management skills don’t make for exciting teaching.
      • If you don’t have deep subject knowledge you can’t adapt quickly to students’ questions.

We understand that school administrators are constantly under siege from the latest legal and accountability requirements. They have a tough job and it wasn’t necessarily one they were trained for.

I remember asking a friend who was a DP, how long it took to forget what it was like in the classroom. “Not very long,” was the reply.  This creates very real problems when they are the people making decisions about staffing.

Inroads have been made in recent years to give teachers promotional opportunities that preclude going the admin pathway. However, I think we have missed the boat. Schools are places of learning and teaching needs to be the priority. As such, everyone in a school who holds a teaching qualification should teach, every semester. Even the Principal. Give teachers release time to do administrative tasks. Share the load around so that all teaching staff get an understanding of the whole picture.

The best, most inspiring teachers are those who have deep knowledge and are excited by their subject. Especially in Secondary school. Good teachers make a school run smoothly, great ones make it shine.

Reporting not Teaching.

For education to work well there needs to be communication between the school and parents. Semester reporting is a valuable tool in the process. That is not in question.

But the endless reporting on the latest departmental initiatives, the hours and hours spent on recording daily minutia simply serve to detract from a teacher’s core purpose – teaching. There are only so many hours in a day and even teachers run out of them. Furthermore, these supplementary demands are far more likely to lead to teacher burn-out and attrition. Of all the teachers I know who have left the profession early, all have done so because of the system, never the students or the subject.

An article by Daniel Boffey in The Guardian, UK. in October 2015, showed that between November 2013 and November 2014, 49,120 teachers had left the profession. Even allowing that some of these are genuine retirements, that is a frightening number.

These are dangerous trends and we can’t afford to ignore them.

Then There is the Technology.

For those of us who grew up in the days of blackboards and chalk it is sometimes difficult to get your head around the astounding changes in technology and its use in the classroom. We are now contemptuous of overhead projectors and critical if our white boards don’t have smart board capability.

I was at an EduGrowth event not long ago where a number of presenters were talking about the future of education technology. They were talking about virtual reality classrooms and all kinds of things that could make a teacher’s head explode  – with excitement or dismay, or maybe a bit of both.

Technology presents a number of issues in schools but I am not sure they have been discussed fairly. As this discussion inevitably will continue I ask only this of school admins:

  1. Don’t blame teachers for not getting excited by technology if you don’t offer substantial training in its use.
  2. Don’t blame teachers for not using technology when it often doesn’t work and there is insufficient IT support.
  3. Don’t make teachers feel inadequate for not mastering technology when – refer 1 and 2 above.

While schools and teachers are not going to become redundant anytime soon, advances in on-line learning have exploded. I heard at the above event that in the past year people have spent $107B on education on-line. A large percentage of this is tertiary but there is a portion that is primary and secondary. The home-school movement has embraced this technology.  

Technology is here to Stay.

Much as some of our predecessors despised the printing press, some of us have fears about the internet and associated technologies. However, there is no going back. While we will continue to get our subject knowledge the same way, technology will dictate how we deliver it and how students engage with it. Teachers, school administrations and regional education bodies will need to get their head around it and keep current or our students will leave us behind.

Change is the end of all true learning. Leo Buscaglia Share on X

Is there a particular aspect of teaching that you think has changed for the better, or worse? What do you think teaching will look like 10 years from now?

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Until next time

Teach Well.