A month or so ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in AITSL’s symposium on 21st century learning. At the symposium I was asked to speak briefly about my philosophy on education and my experiences as a teacher in 2013. It was cool because two other public school educators were there to share the limelight with me – John Goh and Alice Leung. They both have great things to share about education and are both very hardworking individuals.
That last point is what the focus of this post is about. Just how hardworking are we three educators and how has that allowed for us to be given opportunities like the AITSL one? When Alice spoke before the room full of policy-makers, academics and others aligned to the education sector, she was met with a rather surprising comment from Valerie Hannon (if you haven’t heard of her check out Innovation Unit – she’s the director and a pretty cool chick). Valerie suggested that Alice was a ‘hero teacher’ and then went on to explain that maybe this isn’t a good thing. I’ll just add here that Valerie was not intending to criticise Alice, in fact she was supportive of her and in awe of her complete dedication to her school and her students. Valerie was suggesting that Alice has taken on the role of change agent in her school and beyond, requiring excessive working hours, sacrificing hours of her life to her job. For Valerie, this is not sustainable and not the ideal situation for a teacher. She was critical of the lack of systems and support structures (and yes, vision from those in positions of power above the classroom teachers) for not instigating, facilitating and supporting needed educational change.
When I got up to speak, I’ll admit that I was scared of Valerie Hannon. She’s a very provocative thinker (which I love) and I feared what her response to my video and ideas would be, lol. But when I was standing there talking I got fired up, and directed my discussion at her. She is right. We’re not supported. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our lives to our jobs. Add children and a husband to the mix and it’s insane trying to sustain such a commitment to excellence and innovation in the classroom let alone adding blogging, conference gigs and workshops to that. IT IS NOT RIGHT! So I agreed with Valerie and told her and all the other powerful people in the room that I will probably burn out in the next 12 months. I probably won’t be teaching this time next year if I try to keep up the pace I’m at. And what did she ask? What do I need in the way of support to ensure that my enthusiasm, interest, knowledge and skills can be sustained for the benefit of my students and school? What should those in power provide teachers with so as that my innovative student-controlled teaching methods can be the most effective? She stumped me! I didn’t know the answer! All I managed to say was: 1. Give me space to experiment with learning. 2. Acknowledge and praise me when me or my students manage to do something amazing.
What did Valerie say? NO! That’s NOT what you need! You need REAL change. We need to radically change what schools look and feel and run like. She was talking cool stuff like John Goh is doing (note, he is a principal and can therefore enact actual, lasting change unlike we classroom teachers who can only try and try and try) like changing school times, lesson times, the physical layout of the school, the way subjects are taught – everything. I could only laugh and nod. Yes, there’s the dream Valerie. But we teachers can’t be held responsible for bringing those changes on our own … and that’s why they didn’t even come into my mind when she asked me. I guess I’m a defeatist and I didn’t know it.
The lone nut video of 2009 was a popular one for us eager little DER bunnies. But the batteries have run out. We’ve been dancing for too long and for the most part no one is following. It’s not fair that we keep shouldering the burden of educational change. Maybe we’re deluded. We can not keep working 12 hours a day. We are NOT hero teachers, and we shouldn’t be. We should be supported by systems and individuals in the position of power to reshape these systems to ensure better outcomes for teachers and students and the wider community. Let’s be honest, no one is inspired by someone who works constantly, who lives and breathes teaching and has no time for anything else. They might be full of respect, but who wants to follow in that teacher’s footsteps? No one is in awe of the teacher who thinks that he or she is the only person who can teach the class well and therefore must never take a day off (unless it is to present at a conference). I’m tired. I don’t want to do it anymore. Valerie is right. We shouldn’t be hero teachers. Things need to change. Cos you know those classroom teachers you follow on twitter who are pushing themselves to the limit in a vain attempt to champion and generate change? They may not be able to last much longer.