I have this super awesome song from fly my pretties on repeat in my head.
It has got wedged in my head with the news that not one, not two but three (THREE) people I have a lot of time for are leaving New Zealand classrooms for ‘brighter shores’. All have told me in the space of a week. This is on top of another who left for a ministry job at the end of last year and another couple who left last year. Most are still in education, just not in front of our students.
Wise people (Thanks Matt especially) remind me that sometimes if you want to extend your reach, you need to move away from the classroom which is how we can justify moving into more senior leadership positions within a school. This means those leaders can have more impact on class rooms by helping more teachers and having more say in curriculum design. Likewise, if people chose to work for the ministry of education or PD type places, they can help teachers help more students.
For the people who are leaving for positions overseas, I can totally understand how the pressure is driving them. Not just pressure for money (although I just don’t understand how anyone could survive in Auckland on a teachers salary) but pressure to ‘conform’ to school policies, or in the jostle to find a job they might not be in a school that is the best fit for them. Stress around getting permanent positions have resulted in less than half of my class (I was at Tcol in 2009) are still in teaching and some of those have bounced from position to position…..
The time away from home is tough on young families too, last week with parent teacher interviews and meetings, I picked my son up once from daycare. I felt like I just didn’t see him. And then on the weekend I just had to spend an afternoon catching up on stuff – the parent guilt was really winding up and I did momentarily consider what jobs I could have that didn’t mean I was working on a weekend to catch up.
Despite all this, I do LOVE my job. The challenges, the success, the sheer joy and utter lows it can bring. I can still just forgive the hours spent ticking boxes and doing jobs I think are meaningless for all the fun stuff I get to do and the people (students and staff) I get to work with.
And so I can’t help my internal worry and rage that such people are leaving the profession. People who have challenged me, challenged the system, tried things, shared things, tried to break the mould and who strive for the very best for their students and staff and schools are leaving.
Well, not flying. Yet anyways. I still hate planes!! And occasionally LOVE Dunedin. Especially the beaches.
I am taking a year off teaching next year. I am excited, terrified, elated, anxious, cautious and curious all at the same time. I’m going to have a break, do some contract work (I’ve got the paper work but waiting on the formalities) and hopefully get excited again.
It has not been an easy decision to make, but I have just struggled this year. I had a really tough start where I just wasn’t feeling it. I put it down to my disappointment at being asked to teach out of my subject area, and the conflict that caused. I found some exciting ways to make the courses I teach manageable, but have just felt off all year. I made some changes at home (I lost 10 kilos!! With some more still come…… or not, I do like wine and chocolate), I tried to make some changes at school, but it just hasn’t felt right. Some changes stuck, some didn’t, and I just didn’t get the same satisfaction. And there is no specific way to say it, but I felt I lost my mojo. Although I still LOVED most of my classes most days, it wasn’t enough to drown out the other difficult but somehow nameless things.
I kept thinking back to my post was back in 2016 about teachers flying away… and how these amazing teachers do just need to go do something else for a while. Some are back teaching in classrooms and schools, others are still in education in other ways, and some are in different roles altoghether. These people have given me the courage to try something new, and I certainly hope I find my way back, refreshed and ready to another crack at it. Or perhaps I find a new space where I can regain my energy and passion for all things educationy.
And I am incredibly thankful for people who have helped me come to this choice. Especially my family (and that we are ‘lucky’ enough to be able to handle a drop/variation in income), but school as well. And to some amazing colleagues and friends who have made the transition, and have so kindly shared their experiences and expertise – they really did pave the way for me. Especially the couple that told me taking that first step was the hardest and the rest just followed. Was totally true.
For the past two year, I have co-taught a yr 7 digitech module. The first year we (wrongly) based it around the progress outcomes for the new New Zealand digitech curriculum. Last we were ‘encouraged’ to teach the technology standards (posts HERE and HERE) during the module. When it came time for the 2020 timetabling, I found I was timetabled into the yr 7 module, which meant I couldn’t teach junior (yr 9 or 10) science. Which I was gutted about. So I set off to talk to both my HoD and the Tech HoD, and said very politely I did NOT want to be teaching technology please, I struggled to get my head around the technology standards, and I really LOVE teaching science.
So then it was a real downer when I found myself in the yr 9 digitech module instead. With a second year teacher who has also not taught digitech (or any technology for that matter) teaching the other module. So not only was I not trained, had said I didn’t want to, I had received no PLD funded by my school for teaching technology and my self funded PLD around incorporating digitech into the science curric was not designed nor meant to have me teaching a technology course, I found myself in charge of a course, and supposedly supporting a beginning teacher to also teach it. With an expectation that I would rejig the course to be more inline with the new standards.
Which is really where my post about aiming for not bad comes from. Because even with this mindset, I have already sacrificed MANY more hours than this course than I ought to have, which is 15% of my working week when you break it down. I feel my other course, which not only should take more of my time, but I am infinitely more passionate about, have suffered because I simply have not had the time to put in to them. I had to throw my toys to get meetings I needed. I have had to use the systems in place with the specialist classroom teacher and the SLT. I have not had another meeting scheduled by the people that get paid more than me to check in. I am not able to attend meetings because I am mostly based in the Science curric area and need to be at those meetings. I got sent screen shots rather than documents from people unwilling to share. Because I was placed in this course, others were moved out, and there did not seem to be any process around this. Which was hard and created conflict. Which was not of my making and I was stuck in the middle. And now, I have essentially handed another teacher an entire course built from scratch by me despite the unwillingness of others to do the same to help me.
Which makes me cross, because it is not my course. It should be collaborative, and equitable. But this whole process has been the exact opposite. And I feel like it has really impacted my levels of happiness in a profession and how I am choosing to work. Past Rachel NEVER would have said I handed some-one a course of mine.
So how do I fix this?
Because in this job, it seems that you give and you give and you give, and it is never enough. There is always something more that could be done, something more to tweak, another student who needs help.
I am watching people, and not just in my school, crack and sometimes break under pressure. I have watched so many teachers fly away from the job over a number of years. I am seriously pondering a move myself, a friend is a teacher in Melbourne were she is paid more and the houses are cheaper (in the burbs to be fair).
I’m trying desperately to remember I need to work to my own standards, not that of those around me. I need to remember that money and units is not always an indication of peoples worth. That I work for me, not what others opinions of me is.
I am trying desperately to remember that I do enjoy my job. I enjoy young people, their energy, enthusiasm, their courage, and their sometimes blatant daft behaviour as they grow into interesting and diverse people.
I am trying desperately to enjoy teaching kids about the world around them, to be curious and critical, to challenge and to understand the building blocks of the world around us.
I am trying desperately hard to remember I like setting things on fire! And seeing students faces when they make a connection, or are in awe of a practical.
I am saying practical things like it will be better next term once I’ve done the module through once. It will keep getting better. I can critique and improve. The kids don’t know any better.
I am trying desperately to avoid going in all guns blazing, because I want to do this well. I am trying to remember the cost to other things I value more. Trying to avoid the well bugger them, I’ll just smash it attitude. Because, in the end, the only person that smashes is me.
It was very hard to know where to start writing this post, as it has been an amazing journey, filled with successes, failures, excitement and despair, collaboration and lack there of, to get to the point where the NZMIEEhui18 has been and gone. It was an amazing weekend, filled with learning, laughter, ideas, diversity and fun. I would like to thank everyone who came along and made it what it was.
So how to did come to be?
The New Zealand ‘chapter’ of the MIEE group (Microsoft innovative educator expert) had never had a face to face meeting before. Small groups had meet at the global educator exchanges, most of the ‘initial’ group meet in Sydney back in 2014, and there have been local events held in Auckland, Christchurch, Nelson etc. Occasionally we would bump into each other at other conferences (there was an excellent crew at energise!!). We do meet once a month on a Wednesday evening to have a webinar, with usually 40 or so people there, to share, chat and have occasional guest speakers. These calls have really grown, and focus on a mixture of pedagogy, curriculum, tech tools/demos and conference feedback depending on the month. But we had never had an NZ wide meeting, and there are people I work so closely with that I had never meet, or I could count the number of times I have meet them using one finger.
But then Nikkie gave me a buzz and said, hey, should we apply for this funding (the networks of expertise funding). I was a bit skeptical at first, we were already so busy, but also really thought it sounded good, so I said yip, but I’m not spending hours on it. But of course we did spend hours on it and sent away an application for funding for a face to face meet up and some money for release time and for the monthly calls. After what felt like AGES we heard back, could we meeting to discuss. Sure we said, not quite sure what was going on. And then we found out we had got the funding for 2 years, not one, and we were good to go.
Which then lead to an interesting conference prep time, where we both had to learn about different things, like accessing money from the ministry!! writing invoices, getting things paid, navigating other commitments. We had one planning day during the holidays when I flew up to Auckland and then loads of late night skypes. Nikkie’s school was amazingly helpful. We organised speakers, had to build a webpage (which was a real rush job at the initial time, as in when do we need it?? Oh tomorrow, sure we can do that tonight…..), we sorted flights and accom (with the help of the fabulous Janine) and then we sorted the last minute changes and challenges.
And then it was the weekend.
I flew up on Thursday so I could have some time to get my head right (I don’t like flying) and so I could meet up with the fabulous Becky Keene that night, as she also arrived that day. Friday was busy with last minute jobs, as well as a lunch trip to Waiheke island (we had to show Becky around after all). Friday night I barely slept despite having had a couple of ciders… and it was Saturday.
And while there were specific pieces of new learning, and some deep, challenging learning conversations that I will post about separately, my lasting and overall impression was of how fabulous ALL the educators who came are. Old and young (my goodness 24 is young, I’m getting soooo old), primary and secondary, senior leaders and classroom teachers, facilitators, everyone was amazing. Everyone had something to offer in a rich tapestry of being the best they could be. I had some challenging chat with Pip around the differences between the NZ and Australian school curriculums, talked through some minecraft tips with Noellene, talked literacy with struggling learners with Lynette, talked about heroic models and filling holes, about how to grow the community, connected with Koen again via skype, about building PLD that works for you. I meet people I have worked with for 3 years and saw their energy and passion with no filters. I reconnected with people I have only ever meet overseas. I filled my kete, and I know I contributed to filling the kete of others. It is true that people are the most important thing in all the world, and I am so proud of the work that was done to bring everyone together.
Today I had a mentally crushing realisation of just how far short I have fallen for a goal I set for myself and my yr 13 Chemistry class. I had set out to teach Chemistry, to move away from teaching them to the Achievements Standards. I hoped to make them interested in Chemistry and the world about them, not just the credits. And I am pretty sure that I failed quite horribly at it. We had a end of topic test last week required for the ‘derived grade’ demands of NCEA and they kids just didn’t do it. Some flat out refused. The ones that did do it did terribly for the most part. When I raved and stormed today trying to get something, anything, out of them that I could do to help, I got ‘I’ve already got Merit endorsed, I don’t need this….’ or ‘I’m not doing this standard in the externals, I don’t need it…..’ or (the worst for the soul today) ‘I’ll just swot up for the exams Miss’. Or averted eyes as they thought to themselves ‘another teacher flying off the handle’.
From an outside perspective, the ‘results’ this class will get will be awesome. A good number of endorsements should be on the cards. They have learned some Chemistry. These kids will put the work in for the exam and pass. The feedback from the internally assessed standards was positive – kids did think offering the 4th internal would be good ‘for more credits’. Apart from today when I was ranty, I think most of them enjoyed the class. They gave useful feedback for next year. We did some great practicals and I feel I got them thinking more about what those practicals represent. Some might be in a place where they can even do well in Chemistry next year at uni.
But from my perspective I had wanted sooooo much more for them. I talked with them at the start of the year and tried to blend their need for credits and uni prep (this is what they said they wanted) with me wanting to push those preconceptions.
I wanted them to be motivated and challenged, not counting credits. I wanted them to be able to at least get an achieved on a practice test without having to ‘cram’ because they had a base level of knowledge from throughout the year. I wanted them to have more pride in themselves and their work, and so put the time in to learning something. I had faith that trying to instil the value for a love of learning would hold out over the credit crunch.
I was wrong.
Maybe do I need to rethink. They said they wanted credits and uni prep. Do I really know better than they do about what they want?
So I will crawl into a swirl of thought, and try and think about how I could do better next time. But right now it hurts and I am so frustrated that in the end it still all came back to credits. Credits they will get, but at what cost?
So, today I arrived at school (the day after the post and ‘incident’ above) and found my room pranked. With clever ‘political’ memes based on conversations around elections time. Maybe, just maybe, I was too hard on the kids (and myself) and they learned more than just about credits… 🙂
I’ve read some ‘troubling’ things in the last week around education. I guess being election time socio economic issues and education are more in the news than usual. It has got me thinking again about change in schools, how to manage it, what is important… but also what change needs to happen in our society and culture to make those changes stick. There is such a big difference between have and have nots. In society, between schools, within schools and even within classrooms.
At the moment, I don’t see much happening to bring these closer together.
Which is where my ‘lone nut’ comes in. The ‘crazy’ person every school needs, who is relentless in pursuit of some goal to make a positive difference.
The first article I read was this one, about working in a decile one school. About how we are still failing our most vulnerable kids. There lives outside of school are such a barrier to learning in school. The lack of hope is so soul destroying. I have a friend who moved to Dunedin after a stint in a decile 1 school just out of Auckland, and some of her stories just horrify me. She still doesn’t get how we just pitch in and help each other down here, even if you are at a different school – she is so used to everyone being in full on survival mode with no extra room to help out.
I’m also really worried about how vulnerable schools are getting the least experienced and least trained teachers.
Who is going to help these teachers learn on the job? If there is such a massive turnover, there will be no experience to lend to new teachers. Many of these teachers are bonded for 2 years and then leave. One mentioned in the above article was leaving to retrain….. I suppose it has always happened, that the ‘best’ teachers have always been pulled into private schools, or into ‘better’ state schools, or out of the class room and into ‘the corridor’ but I feel like more and more ‘innovative’ ‘lone nut’ teachers are being pulled into spaces like HPSS, Rototuna, Rolleston Horoeka and now a new ‘school’…..
Because then I read about City Senior School. I love the concept, really I do (except maybe boot camp, but maybe I would benefit from some ‘enforced’ voluntary fitness)… and perhaps part of me wishes I was that brave.
However, I am really struggling to understand why that money is going to go to 300 odd kids, when I pretty sure it could have been spread around a bit and impacted a whole LOAD more. And yes, this is addresses in the post – and maybe there is a place for a prototype school. A proof of concept perhaps. But there are also loads of different types of schools in NZ – unlimited springs to mind, and I went to Hagley for 7th form in 1999 and had english once a week for 3 hours and it rocked…..actually watching a movie in one go made life way nicer. So alternative models are not new. Schools like Albany Secondary, or HPSS are shaking things up, and have not had a systemic change on a wide range of schools. Will another prototype achieve this?
I’m also jealous it is another example in the ’09’. Good ole sunny Dunedin won’t be getting a new school any time soon, and several of the local schools have been closed/combined or under CAPNA in recent years. Geographically speaking, where you live can have a massive impact on what opportunities you have. Two students jump into my mind who would both LOVE and hugely benefit from this type of school. How will the students be selected?
On the industry partners…. I’m not sure this is that ‘new’. Back in 1996 I think, I was involved with an extension sci program while I was a student at Lincoln High school. I visited a lecturer a couple of times as part of that project, as did my class. My school does the same thing with GATE science students – for example one BLIS technologies will mentor students. I have a student in yr 13 who travels into the uni to visit the Chem dept for some extension. After bagging Dunedin’s geographic location, we are lucky we have lots of places who will help students out if you ask. And we have some top notch techie companies too 🙂 So maybe it is not standard, but if my school can do it surely most could. Except again for those who are really isolated, either by funding or by geography.
I also think that it is one thing to bring this type of learning into a new place, and a completely different thing to be changed in an established, traditional space. With older style building and furniture. Or parents who are cautious around technology. Or kids who comes to school because they get food. Or schools who are isolated with small rolls and one Science teacher. Or schools with teachers less confident around trying new things.
Because, of course, this new school will be recruiting ‘excellent educators.
So some schools will ‘lose’ these excellent educators… and what happens to those they leave behind? they get a teacher with 6 weeks training on the teach first program? Or, they need to limit option lines, or get a ‘less’ excellent teacher. The teacher shortage is becoming more recognised. Especially in the ‘STEM’ subjects. Sigh.
Bonus of being able to teacher Chem, Bio, Sci and Maths with a twist of digital technologies/coding and a passion for helping others use technology better – I’m pretty sure I’d have to try REALLY hard to get fired. 🙂
I then read this article about Haeata in Christchurch. It made me soooo frustrated. I know some of the educators at Haeata and how desperately hard they are working. How passionate they are about their school and their learners. Unlike some of the other new schools in NZ, these guys opened on day one with yr 1-13, with nearly a thousand kids. All the politics that went with the closure of schools in one of the most deprived areas of Christchurch. Of course the school is not perfect, because nothing is perfect. Kids thinking they need to take weapons to school is not ok. But I’m fairly certain this won’t be the only case in NZ, and it is probably again happening more in lower decile schools.
The other thing to remember is schools are run for people, by people, and people are messy. Wonderful, creative, hardworking, confused, disengaged, angry, MESSY. Teachers are all these things too. It interests me how highly teachers behavioural standards are held – and rightly so in some areas. But the expectation of professionalism is not always meet by the level of respect for the profession, the training and support provided for people in the profession, and in the pay packets on those in the profession. When I tell people I am a ‘teacher’ it is generally meet with either a ‘so, are you on holiday then’? or a horror story of the ‘worst teacher in the whole world’. Sigh
And then there is this story full of hope from Nelson. Getting kids feed, in the proper clothes and feeling like the belong, and what do you know, they come to school! They start to engage. The most vulnerable students achieving success – perhaps not in the traditional academic sense, but really does that matter?? There is a focus on hygiene for these learners!! They are happier and healthier and feel more valued. How can we build more places like this for our most vulnerable learners, rather than the proposed ‘bootcamps’…
How can we justify having such disparity between our schools?
My school is decile 7 (although we will do ‘better’ under the new funding scheme) and we have some problems. To quote a colleague we may not be perfect, but we try damned hard to help every kid. Since writing this post about kids falling through cracks, more students have left. One in particular rattled me…a yr13 student left for a job – I’m not going to uni so why stay here? was her answer to my almost begging her to stay. And she is doing well in the job, and enjoying it, so maybe it was the best thing for her.
My school is changing though. The changes might be ‘glacial’ but they are happening. We are quietly doing out best to respond to students needs, we are listening to our community. IMHO, our ‘corridor’ are still a little reactive rather than visionary (please don’t fire me…) but there are definitely strategies in place to try and get a culture shift. Teachers have the freedom to try new things. We are slowly breaking down the ‘just’ us barrier that kids put up when they compare us to the ‘town’ schools. We try really hard to meet kids needs, whether that be freshly cooked cheese toasties for breakfast, screaming internally and staying relentlessly positive with that class, or sending a kid into the uni once a week for extension. Watching football in the rain for a kid who told you to ‘get lost’ that day.
In my campaign around getting more equitable access to devices through the TELA laptop scheme (hopefully some of this will come through in feb, and I’m going to keep chipping away) I was horrified to learn than teachers in different schools have such a disparity in their access to tech support device choices, software to install. I am constantly saddened by the ‘tightness’ of our schools PLD budget – hence my passion for free PLD, tweetmeets etc – and wonder how many other thousand teachers are in the same boat as me but don’t know about the free stuff. Or perhaps don’t have the same supportive family set up that I do, so I can spend an hour of twitter instead of reading bed time stories that night. I know not every person has that luxury.
So, as I reflect on those four articles/blogs, and others I have seen recently, I worry for education in New Zealand. So many kids are hungry, cold and sick. Some are parenting younger siblings, some are looking after other family. Some are so anxious about results and their future they can barely think about right now. Many are working long hours in ‘part time’ jobs. Some of them are at my school. I suspect there are many more in many schools around New Zealand.
And so many teachers are leaving. Last year I wrote this blog about some amazing educators flying away from the classroom, and still more have left. I have a constant internal battle about where I could be the most valuable…. in ‘the corridor’ (if I got a job…) I’d have more ‘clout’ so more of my ideas could be implemented, or if I went to work for a PLD provider (if they would have me) I could impact loads of teachers and possibly impact way more more kids. If I worked for the ministry (hahahhahahaahhaaaaa) I could possible change EVERYTHING and then I have weird day dreams about what I would be if I was education minister.
And then I set fire to something in my classroom, or help a kid with something, watch my students participate in global projects, or make slime/sliver mirrors/a robot dance/anything in minecraft, or a thousand little things that make connections and learning and a difference, and I decide to maybe hang around a bit longer 🙂
And be thankful for the people out there, like me, the ‘not so lone nuts’ who are working in ‘normal’ ‘messy’ ‘faultless in spite of all their faults’ schools (I do like me some Jane Austen) and doing their best to quietly change the lives of the students who come into their classroom for the better. Who have a box of muesli bars for hungry kids, or who buy a box of pens for the start of each term, or who pushes their kids to new heights, or who ignores their own kids while driving others around to sports. Who give new things a go, whether on paper, on a computer, in a sports field or in a staff meeting.To all the ‘invisible’ educators, the ‘just a teachers’, I see you, and I thank you for all that you do.
Recently I have been tired. Bone achingly, soul crushingly tired.I feel like the fire has gone from my soul. It is the end of term, I had a 2 day field trip last weekend, meetings three days after school this week (including friday – who even does that..?), Parent teacher interviews 2 nights next week plus a whole load of other stuff I should get done. I haven’t finished uploading the #scichatNZ #teachmeet videos, I haven’t finished a scholarship resource I planned to do, and I haven’t marked a level one science test my students did last friday. I’m also really certain I am not the only teacher in the country saying 6 days to go…… and then you see articles like this one saying holidays need to change.
And worst of all I feel like I am letting everyone down. Myself, my students, my schools, my family. The ‘guilt’ is crushing.
A couple of weeks back I had a chance conversation with some-one about my concerns for teacher workload and teacher PLD – how can we make is sustainable and fair and even accessible for everyone. I talked about scichatNZ and why we (Matt Nicoll and company) had started it, and how educamps and teachmeets might help fill that gap. The reply I got was unexpected and thought provoking…. it was something along the lines of
‘this is the problem with the heroic model, people fill gaps so the problem isn’t addressed, and then people burn out’.
Which is exactly what I have found – the team definitely burned out, and me with them. Even trying to be more sustainable this year, it has been a massive struggle to get people involved and contributing.
Having only recently been introduced to the heroic leader model by Welby Ings fabulous book disobedient teaching, I had never considered this to apply to me. I don’t consider myself a hero!! But in the couple of weeks since this conversation, and watching my colleagues crumble into piles of tired, flu filled ‘grump’ I think that perhaps many teachers and schools fit this model to a degree. We are asked to be heroes and champions, we are asked to do the impossible, every year gets more complicated and full, and we just keep doing what we do. And as Welby Ings says of heroic leaders….
In the end they become self defeating because the more heroic they are, the more they increase the gap between dependancy and empowerment.
(Ings, disobedient teaching 2017)
And as David Bowie says – we can be hereos, but just for one day.
So are teachers, by their can do attitude, yes I’ll pick up the slack, yip I’ll bend over backwards, actually causing harm by making the system too reliant on them? Are teachers fixing a problem for a short while, but unintentionally masking the real issues behind them.
So how does this apply to me in the classroom?
I can apply this thought process to my students learning. If I spoon feed them all the answers and don’t provide opportunities for them to fail, then I don’t think they ‘learn’. True, they might be able to repeat back some facts about Chem. But I don’t just want my students to remember Chem, I want them to learn resilience, compassion, empathy. I want them to relate what they are learning about to their lives and the lives of others. I’m struggling with the idea that to teach them these things, I might have to be less compassionate myself. It is a strange saying, sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. Is it true though?
I recently went a bit ‘ranty’ at my level 3 Chem class because I got a torrid of excuses for not having completed some work and/or bombing in an assessment. ‘I couldn’t find the notes online’. ‘I was doing a different internal’. ‘I didn’t understand it’. Why didn’t you ask I said. Blank stares and I didn’t have time type defensive comments followed. So I told them all if pak n save rang for a reference, I wouldn’t recommend them for the job. They demonstrated they couldn’t follow instructions, avoided a simple task, and then did not take responsibility for not having done said task. If you were an employee and didn’t do something you were asked, and then said you didn’t know how but didn’t ask for help, I’m pretty sure most bosses would be saying see you later. You can imagine the looks and feels I got for that statement 🙂 But as a classroom teacher I do bend over backwards to help my students, I am available via email or text pretty much whenever, I give up noncontacts and after school for tutorials and questions, and I know I am not alone in this. I have heard of teacher picking kids up on weekends to get to a tutorial. I know the harm that this could cause my students – this idea that Mrs Chisnall will come along and save the day, so I don’t need to panic now – does, but I also really really want my kids to achieve success. And my school wants kids to achieve success, and my community wants kids to achieve success. At the end of the day, the credit crunch counts and it is my ‘job’ to get kids over the line.
Another (more heartbreaking and more complex and political ) way I think this can be applied to schools was this article about kids going hungry in the holidays because, in many cases, the food they got at school was the only food they ate all day. I was torn between anger at the fact that kids go hungry at all, frustration that poverty in New Zealand is so real that some families genuinely can not afford to feed their children, and sadness that some parents assume that school will feed their kids, and so don’t think about it when it is holidays. A prime case of dependancy rather than empowerment. Heroic schools and teachers are not just about changing education, we are being (in my opinion) asked to fill the role of parents more and more. That article lead to this blog post about why we still have cracks. So many students are still falling through them, despite all the heroic efforts of classroom teachers, schools and community groups. My school feeds quite a few kids in different ways, and again I have a box of muesli bars in my supermarket trolley each week for just this. Because if kids are in poorer communities, even with their teachers being heroes, they just don’t get them same levels of achievement.
And again, there have been an increasing number of articles (here, here,…) about students unable to participate in sports teams and school activities because the cost is out of reach. I’m sure there are others. And it is awesome that the community rallied around these boys so they could get the money, but it does mask the fact that the family is living in poverty. And there are many families like this, who simply can not offer their kids the opportunities they ‘deserve’ because of cost.
Recently I had another conversation about what was important in education. And how all the various ‘facets’ involved all probably think they are the only ones doing the right thing. Teachers are accused of moaning about conditions and pay scales – really we don’t care about the kids. Senior leadership in schools care about budgets and stats – really they don’t care about the kids. Board of Trustees care about the schools reputation and ERO reports – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of Education is accused of cutting any and all costs – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of vulnerable children is accused of meaningless paperwork and bureaucracy – really they don’t care about at risk kids in our schools.
But really, EVERYONE on of these departments/agencies/groups cares about the kids. Maybe they are looking through a different lens, but everyone cares. Everyone is being a hero in their own way, and we don’t always work very well together, or even look through the same lens, that often.
So then the really hard question is how to we break out of this heroic model. Because, by being heroic, teachers and schools are possibly limiting the ability of their students and communities to be empowered. By picking up the slack are we masking other issues of dependancy in the community? Are we slowly contributing to the falling status of our profession, and the reporting around teaching in New Zealand would be enough to put most people off opting into teaching as a profession?
By doing our utmost, are we actually doing harm?
It isn’t a nice thought, and it is one I am struggling with. By teachers and schools shouldering these additional burdens, are we doing more harm than good? If we keep saving the day, will the underlying causes never be address? Or is this the way it is now, and the gulf between the haves and the have nots will get wider and wider, and the champions will get fewer and fewer as they burn into cinders and ash.
And then, according to my favourite current heroine, Katniss Everdeen, fire is catching. How do we get those burnt out teachers back to roaring flames? How can we ensure we get new growth?
I have recently had doubts over my self worth. I believe that (almost) all teachers are genuinely interested in helping others and wanting the best for the young people in there care. It might not always be the same ‘best’ that I have, but you know, people give a damn. The job is just to hard otherwise. And some days, my best is pretty average too – we all have those days. But it makes my life so much happier knowing that most teachers are giving it their genuine best shot.
The other thing I know is that I love love love LOVE my job. I really do. I fight for it as much as I can, even when I know it is a loosing battle. I rant and storm and plot and think and tear my hair about what can I actually do to make education better.
But at this point, there are over 1300 vacancies on the ed gazette web page.
458 of those are in secondary schools, and of those, 102 have since in the job description (remembering that some might be social science.)
and 106 are for middle management.
So then my self doubt swings to inflated self worth perhaps. Science teachers, and in fact all teachers in general, are in demand. I have been very flattered by lovely emails asking me to consider apply for jobs. There is significant demand, and school ‘leaders’ are crying out for good candidates for jobs. Frantic facebook and twitters post saying anyone interested in this job. As a Chemistry teacher who is not completely rubbish at her job for a significant portion of it I am an in demand commodity.
Except I am not.
I am still just a teacher.
I have a time release for elearning stuff, but no MU and no official job description. I am one of probably thousands of teachers in NZ and round the world who does more than they need to because they give a damn.
I have actively decided against a middle management roll for the time being as it seems to simply incompatible with having a young family. Which definitely needs to change, right now I feel a lot of talent and skill is being wasted or under utilised due to the additional demands placed on families. I really value my time with Mr nearly 4. Even without a middle management job, I still find myself away from home for camps, sports trips, conferences, PT interviews, prizegivings, meetings etc. After school today he came with me to the girls cricket match (bribed with Lolly pops) instead of coming home and hanging out after daycare. I posted earlier in the year around my despair of so many awesome teachers leaving for ‘sunnier’ shores. Of my Tcol cohort, I reckon maybe a third are still teaching 7 years in.
Today I had to remind myself of why I got into this job. Why I left a Science research lab to go teaching. It is because I LOVE teaching. I am passionate about everyone having the opportunity to learn. I really value promoting strong woman in the work place and showing girls they can have a family and work too (even if my life is a train wreck of domestic disaster stories…..). While I support breaking down subject silos, I value having subject specialists with their enthusiasm, passion and knowledge.
And so today when I got heart breakingly cross again and through that schools really are nothing more than machines to churn out the most possible with the least possible resourcing and they don’t actually give a damn about who works in them and why was I remaining part of this horrid machine, I needed to remember.
I LOVE this job. I have so much fun, I learn so much, I am never bored, I get paid to watch cricket and set stuff on fire (don’t get me started on our new lab protocols and safety managements stuff – sigh) and work with amazing people and talk shop at parties and love it.
So I still ask what can I do for my school, and for my learners?
But I am increasingly worried that there are less and less people asking this. How will those gaps be filled, and who will help support those young people so that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn? Where are these teachers going to come from? And once they get there, how do we stop them leaving?
It is a current fav, and not just because of the yarn booming and cutesy knitting and crochet. I have no idea what was in the songwriters head when she wrote it – a man who stole the sun sounds fairly disasterous.
However, it is a funky little song – and the verse
Call in the coast guard
Scan the horizon for a light house
There’s a man overboard
We’re in six inches over our heads
If the dawn ever comes
I will calmly release my emotions
‘Cause there’s too much to fight off
It’s too big to wrestle with, hey
is my favourite. If my dawn ever comes, I hope that I will release my emotions and walk away. A completely different song in the Gambler also talks about knowing when to walk away….
This blog is inspired by Keith’s blog on his thoughts about other blogs he had been reading. It challenged me to think about my own post and also gave me ‘warm fuzzies’ that my thoughts are contributing to greater conversations. So I thought I would write some responses to some blog posts that have made me think recently.
This post by Karen explores how educators can become more future focussed and embrace student centred learning, despite the fact there are unknowns and complex issues to consider.
‘Building planes as they fly is our speciality’ is such a superb analogy for educators. I am developing a loathing for ‘fixed’ unit plans and the need to show resources in beautiful neat folders as the gold standard of a good, organised teacher. If I am embracing student centred learning then the learning should go where the previous learning takes it and not along a path predetermined by me or my HoD. Which is why I am finding myself more and more at odds with some aspects of our assessment driven system – especially with external NCEA assessments which have very specific requirements in order to achieve success. But when something doesn’t go quite to plan, or results dip, it is so easy to fall back into old habits.
My favourite advice from this post was to innovate from an informed position and make sure you are using multiple markers to inform your teaching – not just test scores. Make sure you run ideas past a critical friend and then be prepared to change it if it doesn’t work.
It also makes me think about why it is so important to share what you are trying to achieve outside of your classroom walls. If you hold onto resources because no-one shares back – everyone loses. You don’t get a chance to improve them, and others don’t get the chance to learn from them.
I really enjoy Steph’s posts – short, sweet but always with something new. This post was on some features of OneNote that I hadn’t used myself – but it reminded me of how powerful it is to let students 1) choose the method/tech that works for them and b) to have a play round with new stuff
Too often I feel we don’t let ourselves take time when learning new tools to really get a feel for how we can use them best. I have decided this is my remote control rule. If you are too afraid to touch buttons on the remote control to find out what they do, you have become afraid of the new.
And if we are unwilling to let our students try things we are not comfortable using – I’d argue that we are not modelling life long learning. Learning from our students empowers our students and gives them confidence to try new things. If teachers are always too afraid to try something new for fear of it not working, then of course out students will adapt this behaviour to themselves and play it safe.
I read this post as I was pondering about whether I forced the issue of U-learn with my school. I have been to Ulearn before and really enjoyed it. But Rotorua is expensive to get to, the conference is expensive and I have been away a whole lot already this year for various reasons. I thought I should go up and present and share what I’m doing – but really I do most of that on my blog anyway.
So how much would I have got out of it? I have heard or read the books of most of the keynotes. I of course value face to face interactions and would love to have caught up with all the cool peeps that would be there. But in terms of bang for buck – some-one else from my school really would get a lot more from the opportunity. PLD is SOOOOO expensive and often not equitably shared so this is also about a moral responsibility I suppose. The money could be better spent than my going to hear what I already think and to present what I would willing share for free.
So I have made the choice to focus instead on educamps (I self funded a trip to Auckland) and teachmeets and real stuff. Real educators sharing what they do. Free, often on a weekend or in own time, and real. I will continue to connect with educators via webinars (Loving the EDCHATNZ MOOC ones even if I didn’t have time for the mooc, thanks MissDtheTeacher and the edchatNZ crew), twitter chats, facebook and the vln. Even the odd coffee or after work drinks.
That said, I had MASSIVE FOMO for the recent ISTE conference held in the US (I drooled over the twitter stream) – and so might make a mission to get to that next year.
There are more blogs that I read out there too – keep blogging and sharing your stories – as we are all contributing to a conversation that matters. Be sure to check out the EDBLOGNZ page with a list of the NZ educator blogs, if yours isn’t there, just use #edblogNZ when sharing on twitter.