Category Archives: why did you become a teacher?
New Zealand Teachers Council graduating teacher standard 3.c
“Graduating teachers have an understanding of education within the bicultural, multicultural, social, political, economic and historical contexts of Aotearoa New Zealand.”
On my last day of Teaching Experience I listened in on my students as they discussed which high school they were planning to attend. At the end of the class, one of the students asked me where I had gone to school. When I mentioned the school’s name, some of the students were shocked that I had gone to this high school and lived to tell the tale. Well perhaps not that extreme, but the school is located in a very working class area and has a reputation for being a bit, umm, rough.
I did admit that yes some of my friends from school are currently on the benefit and one of the girls I was friends with is now serving time in prison for fraud. Conversely I know a lot of school friends in my year went on to university to earn degrees two went on to get PhDs and two went to study at Cambridge. All in all, not bad for a low-decile multicultural Auckland school. What I wanted my students to take away from my experience is that as they enter high school they need to realize that the have the power to influence their destiny. The girl who is now in jail sat in the same classes and had the same friends as the girl who got her PhD in maths in year 9. Somewhere along the way one of them stopped coming to class, got into booze, then drugs and then dropped out in year 12. It isn’t hard to guess which student that was.
What I didn’t tell the students was how awful it is to be a student in one of those schools that the local community has given up on. Seeing dozens of students waiting outside for a bus to take them away from your school isn’t an inspiring start to the school day. Likewise trips in the school van on its last legs to schools that had nicer buildings, better computers made you realize at a very young age that not schools were created equal. But the worst thing is that I still hear ‘oh’ when I reply to the ‘what school did you go to?’ question from people 15 years after I left the place.
Some bonuses to going to one of ‘those’ schools is that I get along well with everyone, something that happens when your classmates are refugees from Bosnia, second generation Samoans or students who could trace their whakapapa back generations. I still had opportunities and some awesome and some not so awesome teachers.
However because I went to private primary school, it would be wise to keep my privilege in check. We had food on the table and my parents not only had the knowledge to challenge the schooling system over perceived problems with my schooling but believed that they had the right to do so. The reason I ended up in private school in the first place was because after a year of schooling I still couldn’t read or write my own name and when challenged on this the reply my parents got was that the school in question wasn’t for doctors and lawyers but for factory workers. I’m not sure what would have happened to my life if my parents hadn’t removed me after my first year but it scares me that there were people in the education system who had already put limitations on what my 5 year old self could achieve.
Is the answer greater school choice and vouchers? After all, the only reason my family could afford private school was because the costs of doing so were a few hundred dollars a term as opposed to the five figure tuition fees that are demanded now.
These sort of policies are predominately sold on the idea that kids from poorer neighbourhoods could access the same schools that kids in wealthy areas attended. What is an implicit and unstated assumption in making these policies work is that there would also be students like me, students from comparatively wealthy backgrounds who, for whatever reason, have parents who were happy to send their kids to low decile schools. Because otherwise you have a system that tolerates ‘loser schools’ which in turn means that there must also losing students which really sucks and believe me, the kids know when they’ve been given up on.
But what are the alternatives?
Back when I was university the first time around I was on a committee that was deciding on entrance requirements for its programmes due to the introduction of NCEA. One of the academics suggested that the University on the Hill should follow the University of California system that gurantees entry to the top 9% of graduating high school students dryly remarking that such a policy would undoubtedly lead to a dramatic reversal in our city’s bussing patterns. Likewise the city of Raleigh, North Carolina stipulated that no school could have more than 40 percent of its kids on free school meals, or 25 percent of who were a grade or more below their expected level in reading or maths. The idea being that the kids who needed the most help weren’t all lumped together.
But what about expectations?
I was recently having lunch with another student teacher who had spent some time in mentoring programme in a decile 1 school who was incredilous that the facilities at that school were almost on par with the private school she attended. I didn’t say anything at the time but I could help but think why shouldn’t the kids in poorer areas have access to the the same facilities and great teachers that kids who live in wealthier areas have? Why should the kids have to travel, in some cases long distances, bypassing many a school on their way to access to education? Shouldn’t that education be freely available in their local neighbourhood? But perhaps most importantly shouldn’t our society have expect that all kids should have the chance to succeed within the education system (and more importantly in life) instead of consigning them to the scrap heap, much like I almost was when I was 5.
So yes expectations matter.
But also money. Because when you are eating weetbix for dinner because pay day isn’t until tomorrow it really is about the money. And when your local school isn’t doing so well the answer isn’t to start bussing kids out the area making it shouldn’t just be someone else’s problem, it needs to be everyone’s problem.
Since this week I was on study leave, I could whine about exams. But seeing as I moaned about that last week I feel I should be blogging about something of more substance.
So instead I’ll have a go at taking apart this very bad idea from KPMG:
Only students doing courses that benefit the economy should receive interest-free loans, according to a suggestion from a leading accountancy group….it was time to discuss targeting the scheme at “areas where graduates can add real value to the economy quickly”, such as agricultural sciences, agribusiness, horticulture, viticulture, biochemistry and international marketing.
It is these ideas which are exactly the reason why we have governments who make policy decisions since they are in theory supposed to do so on the basis of what is best for all sectors of society, not just one community. I notice that teaching, social work, nursing, medicine and dentistry have not made the list of ‘adding real value to the economy quickly’ courses. These professions might not add value (though I disagree with that premise) but our society and in turn economy would not function without them.
However on a purely practical level why shouldn’t we picking winners? Didn’t I previously opine that gaining an education with no purpose wasn’t worth the debt? I still think that students need to think about what the purpose of their university study is before they jump into a degree. However I disagree with KPMG’s assumption that a future career should be the only detriment of what course of study for the simple reason that the economy of today will be the same as the one in 4 years time.
We know this is not the case.
Even in my own working lifetime (about 10 years) the world of work has changed considerably. There are jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago and even within ‘old’ professions like teaching technology has changed the way teachers do their jobs. Picking what the world of work will look like in 5 or even 10 years is difficult to do. Moreover there is an argument to be made that an individual’s passion and talent are also important when you are looking to find your dream job.
But does society benefit if everyone is individually pursuing their talents and interests?
According to a column in the New York Times, it all comes down to whether you are a PC or a Mac person. Bill Gates argues that you should go down the road of making sure your education prepares you for the world of work. While Steve Jobs says you create the right learning environment and the rest will take care of itself.
Right now I’m writing on a clunky old PC while my heart years for a MacBook Pro.
Unlike large parts of the New Zealand population, I don’t watch much in the way TV sports (or for that matter TV in general). The best part of the All Blacks game is the Haka, I’ve never had a real affinity for netball and still don’t understand why league and rugby are separate codes. In fact the only time I ever make time to watch sport on TV is during the Olympics and even then there’s only been one sport that I will watch, gymnastics.
I’ve never lost a childlike wonder for how the gymnasts are able to seemingly defy gravity in such a graceful way. But the thing that keeps me watching gymnastics is how the gymnasts able make it look so effortless in a “hey I think I’ll do a few cartwheels on my way to order a cheeseburger” kind of easy. Were the gymnasts born to perform acrobatics? The general consensus is that you need to put thousands of hours of blood, sweat and tears go into making an Olympic gymnast.
But what about teaching? Teaching is one of the few professions where many people think oh that’s easy anyone with half a brain could do that. Most of us don’t think anyone could whip out a scalpel and decide to be a surgeon, likewise lawyers and accountants are generally viewed as needing to acquire some knowledge about what they are doing before we pay them money for their services. However many people would argue that great teachers are born, not made.
Perhaps people think teaching is easy because in general we’ve all been to school so know what a teacher does during the day. A good teacher makes teaching look so effortless that you think to yourself ‘hey I could do this’ while a bad teacher makes you think ‘hey I could do this better’… that is until you get in front of a classroom.
The first few
days weeks of teaching experience where I felt like the little boy with his finger in the dike. However as soon as I plugged one hole, another would appear. There were times during my practicum where keeping 28 students on task and learning seemed like such a herculean effort. At any moment the whole lesson could come crashing down (and yes, on occasion lessons did come crashing down). On the outside you try to keep a cool and calm exterior, but in reality you know a few missteps can lead to classroom chaos in even the most docile of classes.
This would be what the experts call ‘reality shock’. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, this is the phase when you start teaching (experience) and think to yourself “I didn’t learn anything about teaching at university.” From my experience, I did actually learn about it I just forgot all my theory during survival the phase.
For instance at the start of practicum I would often forget to take the roll after the class went out for morning fitness. A seemingly simple task, right? How could you forget to take the roll? Everyone knows that teachers need to take the roll. So why did I forget to take the roll? Because I was too busy trying to remember student’s names, where they going and what they were supposed to be doing after fitness. The roll was way down my list of things to remember. In order to overcome this, I started making little notes to myself checking off what I needed to do during form time and at the end of practicum it was second nature to take the roll.
The roll is just one small part of the day. At any one time you need to know what you are teaching, how you are going to teach it, how long it will take to teach, what materials you are going to need in your lesson, what will happen if something (like your screen projector) isn’t working, where the students will sit, how you’ll manage problem personalities, what you’ll do to minimize disruption (if you are working on a practical activity), what do the early finishers do, how to get your learning intentions across to students who don’t speak English, what happens if students don’t have the background knowledge or raise a teaching point during the lesson. And these concerns might just be for one activity amongst the many that might be going on in class. I haven’t even touched on what happens outside of class
Eventually my training started to kick in and activities which would have caused chaos in my first week (for instance students teaching each other games they had invented for their maths homework) went by without major hitch in the second week. But every lesson there was something for me to work on, something I needed to differently. I did manage to get almost all my ducks in a row just in time for my lecturer assessment but just like my students, I’m still learning.
So is there such thing as a natural-born teacher?
I think there are personality traits that predispose some people to be good teachers, but like anything teaching is a craft that develops over time. The hours I spent babysitting and looking after my baby brother as a youngster (there’s a 10 year age gap), caring for my ex stepdaughter, the months I’ve spent slogging away to get my qualification and finally the hours I will log in the classroom will make me in to that ‘natural-born teacher’ I aspire to be.
I still have a student loan. Not a big one, but it’s still there. Prior to embarking on University 2.0, my loan was into the four-figure territory but this round of tuition fees has me back in the five figures again. Thank goodness this time around the loans are interest-free, because without it my loan would still be well into five figures.
In exchange for my student loan I have an Honours degree in Education and Politics from respected institution. And self respect and life-long friends and blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong my degree was fun to earn, and I learned a lot. But I can’t honestly say that university study prepared me for the working world. In fact I would go to say that the experiences I had outside of the lecture theatre, writing for the student magazine, being the Vice-President of the Students’ Association and organizing the odd student protest were of far more use to me in the ‘real world’ than the academic side of university the first time around.
But then I went to university not really sure what I wanted to do except escaping a life-time in west Auckland. Perhaps that was my downfall, my career objective was to escape something rather than train for something else. But it was an expensive proposition and what I am wondering now is what really was the value of that degree?
The topic came up with a discussion with my parents about the governments proposed crackdown on defaulting expat student debtors which inevitably turned into a discussion about whether it makes financial sense for young people to go to university if they aren’t training for a specific profession like law, medicine etc.
My parents pointed out that after one year of professional training my brother found a job earning more than I will as teacher even though I have 5 years of full-time study under my belt (4 year honours degree + 1 year grad diploma). His education cost far less than mine not just in terms of tuition fees but also years forgoing income. I conceded the point that I wasn’t particularly focused on what I was doing at university the first time around.
In retrospect I probably should have pulled pints in London for a few years to get the travelling out of my system and come back more focused on my academic work. But then I suppose you could say that my degree enabled me to get a job out of university, and that if I hadn’t gotten that job, I never would have hated my job, and finally gotten around to getting my diploma teaching 10 years later so everything worked out in the end.
This time around I am a lot more focused on getting done what I need to get done in order to graduate at the end of the year and find a job. But if I was dispensing advice to high school students who were thinking of going to university to avoid having to deal with the perplexing question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, I would say that perhaps university is not the place to find the answer to that question.
One of the classroom exercises I from my first week of classes was to identify a teacher from my real life who left an impression on me. Maybe it’s just me (oh man I really hope it’s not just me), but some of what inspired me to become a teacher comes straight from fiction. So here are a few of my favourite screen teachers:
John Keating, The Dead Poets Society
“O Captain, my Captain.’”
You can’t talk about great fictional teachers without mentioning John Keating from the Dead Poets society. The minute Robin Williams enters the classroom casually whistling Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture you know that he is no ordinary teacher. Keating has a passion for poetry and for life. He encourages students to rip pages out of textbooks that analyze poetry as a mathematical formula and has them jumping on desks to see the world from a different point of view. Despite his almost flamboyant teaching style, Keating still has limits. He disproves of Charlie’s cheap prank in assembly, telling him that a wise man knows when to be daring and when to be cautious. However it is Keating’s encouragement of his students to embrace their emerging individualism which leads to dramatic consequences for one student in particular and Keating’s downfall as a teacher. Who doesn’t tear up at the end of the film when the students jump on their desks in tribute to their former teacher?
Minerva McGonagall, Harry Potter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.1 (and 7.2, SQUEAL! JULY! /endharrypotterfreakout)
“We teachers are rather good at magic, you know.”
Everyone always picks Dumbledore as the best teacher at Hogwarts but I have a soft spot for no-nonsense Professor McGonagall. The transmogrification teacher is strict and has a death stare that could stop a misbehaving student at 50 paces. However underneath the tough exterior she is kind and compassionate which is why her students like her even though she is tough. Ever the professional, McGonagall is outward respectful to the Ministry of Magic appointee Dolores Umbridge even though she vehemently disagrees with the bureaucrat’s management of Hogwarts. Cool under pressure, McGonagall kept the school running during the second Wizarding War and duelled Voldemort during the battle for Hogwarts. McGonagall is the teacher whose class you want to be in when it comes time to sit your O.W.L.s.
Yoda, Star Wars
“No. Try not. Do.. or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda’s authority as a teacher comes from his deep knowledge of the force and some nifty skills with the lightsabre. A wise judge of character, Yoda plays a key role in the Jedi Council’s initial decision to deny Qui-Gonn Jin’s request to train Anakin skywalker. Yoda believed that Anakin was affected by his years as a slave and still clings too tightly to the memory of his mother to be trained safely. Yoda’s assessment of Anakin’s character turns out to be accurate. Yet Yoda still comes out of retirement to train Luke in the art of being a Jedi. Due to Yoda’s instruction, Luke is able to defeat the Emperor and the empire crumbles.
Miss Honey, Matilda
“I can’t abandon my children. And if I couldn’t teach, I’d have nothing at all.”
If you were going to imagine the perfect Year 1 teacher, it would probably be Miss Honey. Enthusiastic, kind and motivated by a deep love for her students, Miss Honey serves as a mentor that Matilda has never had before in life. Miss Honey is able to stay true to her teaching style despite the overwhelming presence of her evil aunt and the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, the child-hating Miss Trunchbull. Bonding over their tragic childhood, Miss Honey eventually adopts Matilda to prevent her from moving to Guam a move that goes far beyond the scope of a teacher’s role. Miss Honey reminds us that you can’t be a teacher if you don’t like children.
Johnny Castle, Dirty Dancing
“Nobody puts baby in the corner!”
Not all teachers are found in schools. Johnny Castle is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who earns money teaching wealthy women ballroom dancing and also performing on stage at holiday resorts. When his dance partner needs and abortion, Johnny teaches an inexperienced Baby how to dance like a pro in just a few weeks. Johnny starts off as a crappy teacher often yelling at baby when she makes mistakes. However when Baby tells him that his teaching technique is ineffective, he quickly changes his methods taking Baby into the woods to learn balance on a tree stump and then practicing lifts in the lake. Johnny also shows respect for his student by being the first one to call her Francis rather than her nickname Baby. Who wouldn’t want to learn ballroom dancing from the beautiful young Patrick Swayze?
So tell me, who are your big (and small) screen favorite teachers?
President Obama’s State of the Union speech had a big focus on education including a new policy called ‘Race to the Top’ replacing the ideology of the No Child Left Behind Act.
However I know very little about American education to make any particularly informed comment so instead I leave you with this quote:
“To every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.”
Kia Ora Kotou,
As this is my first post on my new blog, I thought I would tell the story of how I ended up training to be a teacher.
And the most obvious question that springs to mind is why haven’t I got my teaching qualification already?
The answer to that question is that clearly I took a few detours along the way.
The first time I went to university I was 18 and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I took a few papers and found that I enjoyed my education papers enough to major in the subject as part of my Bachelor of Arts but did I want to be a real teacher then? Not so sure.
After completing my degree I decided to take a year out from life teaching English in Asia. That year suddenly turned into 4 because I had enjoyed my life there. But at the end of four years I was burned out and looking for a new challenge. In retrospect my burnout and boredom may have had more to do with living in a foreign country and the limited scope for professional development in that particular environment rather than anything to do with teaching as a career.
So instead of taking the sensible route and finally getting my teaching qualification instead I returned to New Zealand and worked as a researcher for a foreign government writing cables and reporting on current events (which despite the wikileaks scandal sounds far more interesting than it actually was) for a couple of years. The only bonus of this time was that I finally knew that office work was not for me and I needed to do something more satisfying with my life. I missed the buzz of being in the classroom but felt too old to go back to university.
Perhaps the person who influenced me the most to finally go teaching was autistic step-daughter. The adage that life’s most challenging people are our greatest teachers was certainly true with her. She tested my patience, but working out ways to help her make sense of the world and me make sense of her was far more stimulating than spending my days chained to a desk writing about current events.
So last year after
a relationship break up some major life upheavals I quit my job, travelled around the world for 6 months and am now back at university studying to become a fully qualified as a teacher.