By REBECCA SPARROW
This week my five-year-old pranced into the kitchen and announced she wanted to be a teacher. I winced.
Actually I did more than that. As she twirled past me wearing her Wonder Woman cape and Dora The Explorer pajamas I thought, ‘Teaching? Oh God, I hope not.’
It’s simple. I think it’s one of the hardest, most physically and emotionally demanding professions. A profession that from where I’m standing is all take and not a lot of give.
I mean, would YOU do it?
Do what? The hours. The overtime. The marking. The mandatory “volunteering” after school and on weekends to coach the softball team or the debating team or accompany the year 11s on camp. The out-of-school-hours mentoring and tutoring. The keeping up with the constant changes to curriculum. The endless marking of papers and filling in reports and planning lessons and testing, testing, testing of the students and ANSWERING EMAILS FROM PARENTS. And the constant data input and analysis. Ask a teacher about that sometime, I dare you.
Our expectations on teachers are ludicrously high and they’re only getting higher. Today we expect them to teach our – increasingly bolshie, short on attention span – children everything from maths and English to manners and morals. Oh and cyber-safety. And resilience.
We make a song and dance about our teachers’ responsibility to cherish and nurture and inspire our kids. And then regularly question their professional judgment (‘What do you mean Jack is being a bully? He doesn’t behave like that at home. What do you mean Abbey only deserves a B- on her report on The Foods of Alsace-Lorraine?).
Their hours are long, the pressure is huge and their pay is, well, mediocre for a profession where being sworn at or physically threatened by disgruntled teenagers is – for some – a daily occurrence.
Last week I spent two hours on the phone to Cee*, a high school teacher. She’s been doing this job for 17 years. She does it because she loves it. But it’s not for the faint-hearted.
We talk about the obsession with NAPLAN and the race to find the magic bullet to churning out smarter kids without also focusing on nurturing curiosity and resilience and a love of learning.
We talk about how endless pedagogy means that teachers can no longer teach in their own unique way like they did when we were kids. Oh Captain, my Captain is long gone.
We talk about how once teachers simply taught their classes and gave feedback via report cards at the end of each term. Today? Today it’s about constant assessment with students being tracked every 4-5 weeks with the heavy-weight of expectation that every student will ‘lift’ each time.
Cee says, “You can’t always get a lift in a 5 week cycle. Sometimes the victory is not going backwards. Sometimes the victory with a child is their attendance – that they turned up and had a go even though they know their spelling will be wrong. Every child can learn but not every child is an A student.”
Academic excellence isn’t the only thing. Have we forgotten?
We talk about how 20% of the grade 8s Cee teaches would have some form of learning difficulty. Maybe they come from illiterate households. Maybe they have a learning issue or difficulty that was never picked up. But the curriculum doesn’t recognise this. It assumes every child is starting the grade on an even footing.
“I have students starting year eight who can barely read,” says Cee. “ I have 13 year olds who still don’t know the difference between to, two and too. When I trained as a high school teacher, I wasn’t taught how to teach kids to read, – it was assumed that by year 8 they would know. Some of them simply don’t.”
We talk about the lack of resources. The lack of specialist support to help the kids who are struggling and who are inevitably left behind. The 6-month long waiting list to see speech therapists.
We talk about how so much of her job now is about organising the kids. By ‘organising’, Cee means ‘parenting’.
“I didn’t foresee that I’d be having to teach high school boys to have a shower every day, to have good personal hygiene. There are kids whose parents are working long hours and sometimes the first or only proper conversation these kids have with an adult every day is with their teacher. Some of the behaviour management issues we have are because kids just want some attention from an adult.”
Teaching is a job that offers the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all in the space of a day.
So why do they do it?
Because it’s a calling. A good teacher can help you survive a subject. A remarkable teacher can change your life
A remarkable teacher like this one. (Post continues after video).
Going to school and into the classroom of a teacher who believes in you, inspires you, encourages you … well, it can change the way you see yourself, the world and what you’re capable of.
I had a teacher like that. Her name was Mrs Kerry Hedley and I’ve never forgotten her or the impact she had on my self-esteem as a child. The interest she took in my writing. The way she made me feel smart. I walked out of her grade four classroom every day walking a little taller.
Today is World Teachers Day in Australia.
For every teacher who went above and beyond for us, who came in early or stayed back late, who coached our sporting teams or sewed costumes for the musical, who worked with us to improve our grades and solve those friendship spats, for every teacher who believed in us and pushed us to do better and be better … thank you.
Just thank you.
Did you have a teacher who changed your life?