Rage against the machine
My Year 8 son doesn’t know why he has to go to school. ‘All we do is sit around all day and do boring stuff. Why?’
In a recent article in the Griffith Review, ‘Teaching Australia’, GJ Stroud writes of having to flee his vocation. ‘I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic potential.’
What do I say to my son? Tell him that he has to go to school because we all have to do things we don’t particularly like in life? Shall I say that I understand school can be hard, but it will get better? Or perhaps, that I liked school so why doesn’t he? (But then, I was one of those irritatingly gregarious kids so into drama that school for me was a holiday away from the stress of home.)
Sometimes when I’m teaching I think – no wonder kids are so tired and disconsolate at the end of the day. School can be so regimented and prescriptive, so madly standardised and vocationally-orientated. So disproportionately about knowledge rather than imagination. Our fundamental school structure is still so stuck in the industrial revolution model that no amount of iPads and co-curriculum activities can change it. All work and too little play makes kids reluctant to go every day.
‘Teaching – good teaching,’ writes GL Stroud, ‘is both a science and an art.’ Plenty of our teachers are artists and scientists but it’s getting tougher for them to keep it up.
I am a casual relief teacher these days, so I can fly in and fly out, all energy, engagement and novelty, no long-term commitment. I’m like a mistress – the students only get me at my prettiest. It’s far tougher to maintain the long haul, day-in, day-out teaching load, and remain inspiring. And with this burgeoning culture of standards and accountability, it’s just getting tougher.
There are, of course, incredible educators out there who find ways to maintain their zest and energy; but sometimes I get the sense that it’s in spite of the system, not because of it. For me, what Gonski funding represents is hope – for the students, yes, but for the teachers as well. Already we’re hearing stories of how, in places where Gonski funding is actually getting to schools, it’s resulting in happier, calmer students who are finally getting the one-on-one tuition they need. And it’s helping boost the morale of teachers who feel like the system is finally supporting them to bring about the kinds of heartbreakingly wonderful learning moments that spurred them into the profession in the first place.
Stroud again: ‘Quality teaching isn’t borne of tiered ‘professional standards’. It cannot be reduced to a formula or discrete parts. It cannot be compartmentalised into boxes and ‘checked off’.’
So what do I say to my son? I tell him that I understand how he feels.