The days are starting to get shorter and stationary is starting to be bought which depending on your point of view is either the end of the holidays or the start of a new school year.
I’m going to go for a glass is half full interpretation and say it’s the start of 2013.
My holidays have been both equally manic and magic with 11 cities/towns, 8 border crossings and 3 cooking classes as I’m meandered around South East Asia in the space of five weeks. In my enthusiasm to dust off my passport, I left for the airport barely 12 hours after I waved goodbye to my students and will arrive just in time for the International Conference on Thinking.
Although most of my time has been spent marvelling at ancient and modern buildings in between eating copious amounts of street food, I did spend a couple of days in International Schools seeing the amazing teaching and learning going on there.
I know what you are thinking.
It takes a special kind of nerd to set aside time on holiday to do classroom observations but my time was PD on steroids. I have come back brimming with ideas to implement in the classroom and a love affair with the Primary Years Programme. As I look about my ideas around barcamps, impact projects and even the Daily 5 I can see how the programme gives some conceptual grunt to my ideas about effective teaching and learning. I would write more but I fear that such one-way gushing would be a bore to read.
These visits simply wouldn’t have been possible without twitter. Through twitter I had already virtually visited classrooms and met teachers. However while online is good face to face is so much better. You get to hear the conversations, the sights and yes even the smells of the classrooms. Nevertheless it is ever so surreal actually being in a classroom that you’ve been watching over the internet or putting a face to an avatar.
In other news I was pleased and humbled to have made it into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme. The calibre of the candidates who both made it into the programme and those who missed out is truly awe-inspiring. Alongside a digital community to join, I also have four days of learning and networking in Bali just before Easter.
2013 is looking to be an exciting year…
There’s a nasty narrative creeping into the national conversation New Zealand is having about education these days, that of the superhero teacher.
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot line, it goes a little something like this. There is a massive achievement gap in academic achievement and this gap is because of bad schools. Since teachers are the most important things in schools, if the schools suck then it must be because teachers must suck.
Enter the superhero teacher.
Superhero teachers have the capacity to take any group of low-performing students and raise their academic achievement to heights on par with any student in the country, or at least reach them in a way no mere mortal teacher could. But this special ability comes at a cost, the superhero teacher must devote every waking hour (and some when they should be sleeping) to their students. The natural corollary of this statement to some is that we need to staff every classroom with superhero teachers and then hey presto our problems as a country will be solved.
This narrative doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s been played out in many a Hollywood offering most notably Dangerous Minds where Michelle Pffifer was able to turn around a group of delinquent students into learners with the help of Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and some chocolate bars as bribes. Of course anyone who has spent longer than 90 minutes in an actual classroom knows that the business of teaching and learning something new knows that resolving problems doesn’t happen in nice neat portions of time. It’s more like a slow accumulation of sabbaths than a sudden epiphany. Even LouAnne Johnson, the real teacher behind the movie, openly admits that the movie is only partially based on real life events.
Unfortunately the New Zealand Treasury is drinking some of that educational koolaid in this respect by advocating that things like class size don’t matter to the neediest students only teacher quality. Now I’m not saying that kids don’t deserve great teachers however the assumptions underpin the superhero teacher meme need some debunking so here goes.
The first is using research from a series of studies back in the mid 1990s that state that the effective teachers can lift student achievement rates. I don’t doubt that having an effective teacher improves student learning. However it is a huge leap of logic to state that the effect that three great teachers have on students’ lives is so miraclous that it justifies having a few extra kids in each class to free up resources (read hire less qualified and/or experienced teachers) and indeed the bold claim that three accurate teachers in a row is life-changing doesn’t seem to pan out much in theory or in fact.
Of course anyone who spends time in a classroom knows those extra few kids make a difference. That’s a few extra pieces of assessment to analyize, more families to work with and then there’s that small matter of classroom management. Most teachers, especially at primary level, don’t spend much time with chalk and talk ie. lecturing entire classes of students about what to do and what to think yet larger classes will move us back towards that model if for no other reason than crowd control. Education needs to become far more personalized yet the more kids there are in a class means the less time teachers get to spend interacting with kids one on one and bigger class sizes won’t help us achieve this goal.
More importantly underpinning the superhero teacher meme that is gaining traction in New Zealand is the idea that teaching is some kind of innate talent. Indeed the conversation that is emerging in New Zealand particularly around performance based pay and the emergence of Teach First New Zealand is that education policy is now becoming narrowly focused on the qualities of people who become teachers and on the process of educating, hiring and firing them while missing the boat almost entirely on the practices of these teachers and on the conditions that support those practices.
This mindset makes it easy to view initial and ongoing development of teachers as an inessential expenditure which what is already starting to creep into New Zealand teacher education with the government looking at disestablishing the 3 year undergraduate courses in favour of 1 year post-graduate courses or no initial teacher education in the case of Teach First New Zealand. Indeed we are now based around the idea that attracting talent, if only for a few years, is far more preferable to a long-term vision of how to develop our average (ie. most of) our teachers over the long-term.
More importantly it allows the government to wash its hands of any the factors outside of school that effect students performance.
Your students are coming to school hungry and aren’t able to learn effectively? That doesn’t matter to a superhero teacher who will find ways to feed the children’s minds even when if their stomach’s are empty. You obviously aren’t trying hard enough.
Your students don’t have families that read to them or value and encourage school? That doesn’t matter to the superhero teacher who will provide that sense of belonging and purpose. You obviously aren’t working hard enough.
Your students are absent from school because they are catching preventable diseases due to poor housing. That doesn’t matter to the superhero teacher who will shall make up for those lost days. You obviously don’t care about your students enough.
We are being led to believe that great teachers alone have the capacity to overcome these barriers and we need to hold teachers accountable to a set of standards which ignore the deeper causes of educational inequality. Clearly those causes are policy kryptonite to our economists.
Time of year where we are sending home statements about what our students learning goals for the year are. As these are reports going home, they must include a statement about National Standards and be in plain English. Personally I prefer my English in pink and purple polka dots but I digress.
I’ve had a number of problems National Standards in the past but now I’m having to make an overall teacher judgement about whether I think my kids will be at standard by the end of the year I’ve run into a huge set of ethical dilemmas.
There are a few kids in my classroom who without any real input from me are already at standard right now. If National Standards measure success, then what is our system telling the kids who are already there? You’re deemed to be at where you should for your age now put your feet up and watch the year go by. At the other end of the spectrum there are a few kids who even with a herculean effort are unlikely to be at standard by the end of the year. I can’t think of anything more demoralizing for a kid, or anyone really, then being told at the start of the year that even if pull out all the stops and work harder than they ever imagined, you’ll still be below standard at the end of the year.
Yes I realize that standards are supposed to be aspirational and I should have high expectations of all my students, but this needs to balanced by principles of honesty and fairness. Yet even the principle of honesty must be couched. When I hear of stories of children in tears about being labelled below standard and how distressing this must be for some kids and some parents I know I need to be careful when giving those cold hard facts. And it this judgement without context which is the reason why a lot of teachers loathe national standards.
Yet I realize that these feelings aren’t the same for parents.
Last school reporting season I watched my facebook feed light up with friends proudly mentioning that their kids are above National Standards to know that the standards do mean something to parents. A safeguard that yes my kid is doing ok, or no my kid needs help.
But the parents aren’t the only people who read school reports.
As I’m writing my comments and making my judgements on these statements I’m very aware of my student audience. That audience is the reason why I’ve spent more time this weekend worrying about whether or not the kids in my classroom will meet National Standard at the end of the year than I have on identifying their next learning steps or even planning for next week’s classes. In short I’ve spent more time worrying about where the kids are according National Standards than I have working out where they need to go and how we are going to get them there.
I know I shouldn’t over think these judgements but it is such a big call to stick a label on kid.
People outside of the education sector seem to assume that there is a definite line in the sand between the kids that are achieving or not. However even with the wealth of assessment information my school has on each child I still feel like I am performing nano surgery with a sledge hammer when it comes to making a judgement on national standards for some children.
For a number of children the weight of the previous teacher judgements weights heavily on my mind especially if the evidence I have supports an entirely different conclusion from a child’s previous report. The previous teacher might well have made a mistake. I know despite asking for the advice of others, there will be kids I have made an error of judgement on. This doesn’t make them or me a bad teacher. In fact it doesn’t make us any different from any primary teacher in New Zealand.
Because the bigger mistake that has been made is thinking of learning as a product rather than a process. And it worries me greatly that these labels are detracting us from the conversations we need to be having over a child’s next learning step. Despite arguments to the contrary, assessment isn’t a science and should not be treated as such. A guide to be sure, but ultimately like all measures of the human mind entirely fallible by our innate individuality.
I’ve been scratching my head for sometime trying to work out why people think it would be a good idea to put a bunch of untrained yet high achieving university graduates into low-decile schools. But since there is a bit of a media love-fest in progress for Teach First New Zealand I’ve been prompted to write about the topic.
I’m dumbfounded by the logic that requiring our educators to be less educated is a good thing. No sane person would set foot on an aircraft with a pilot who aced physics and had a 6 weeks in a flight simulator, pay money for legal advice from someone who did well in political studies, or let someone with good grades in biology and pair of pliers do some dentistry work unless they were pretty desperate. So to take a person who is academically successful and stick them in a boot camp for 6 weeks before putting them in a position where they are responsible for a class of children should be setting off major alarm bells in most people’s heads. Shouldn’t people who want to be in the education game be committed to educating themselves on how to be a good teacher before jumping into a classroom?
On one level I get it.
The best way to learn to be a teacher is to be out in the classroom teaching. But on another level I see value in gaining knowledge in learning theories, child development, classroom management, assessment techniques and developing a reflective practice before being let loose in a classroom. After all it took 6 months of pretty intense study for me to get my head around the idea that this teaching business is not really about the teaching it is about the learning. I also know people doing the 3 year degree must scratch their heads in wonder at how those in the graduate diploma manage to squeeze learning how to be a teacher into a year-long condensed course and on occasion I’ve agreed with them.
But how we train teachers is a diversion from a far deeper issue and it took me a while to work out what makes me so uncomfortable about the ‘place a high achieving graduate in a poor school’ idea and then I worked out.
What this scheme says to our recent graduates is ‘your knowledge is so important to the education system that you get to bypass all the work we make these other clowns do and parachute you straight into the classroom because we need you right now.’ In essence they receive a ‘get out of jail free’ card in which they are entitled to bypass teacher training collecting their $200 as they pass go under the ‘Aura of selectivity’ as Teach First New Zealand calls it.
But hang on.
This sounds a bit like sour grapes from someone who probably doesn’t have smarts to be selected into such a prestigious programme. The graduates selected into these schemes are the best and brightest graduates and they want to help reduce educational inequality why wouldn’t we want them in the classroom?
The answer to that question depends on what kind of knowledge you value.
Let’s change the goalposts on this conversation for a minute.
Suppose tomorrow the government announced the following: “we want every child in New Zealand to learn Te Reo Maori. We don’t have enough teachers of Te Reo and our current teaching workforce’s grasp of the language really isn’t up to standard. So we will get a bunch of highly proficient speakers of Te Reo who haven’t trained as teachers and put them into our nation’s classrooms so that our children can learn the official language of New Zealand.”
I can already hear the howls of opposition to such an idea emanating from the talkback radio stations on this idea: ‘Learning Maori is a waste of time. It’s a dead language and no way is some untrained teacher getting near my kids. This is PC gone mad!’
But somehow sending a bunch of high-achieving university graduates into schools with, lets face it, a disproportionate number of Maori and Pasifika students is seen as ok because it is for the kids’ own good. Wouldn’t the answer be that we need more Maori and Pasifika teachers who will spend more than just two years in the classroom? Because judging from similar schemes overseas the graduates parachuted into the classrooms of the poor don’t come from the communities that they wish serve.
In fact this scheme has the potential to make the problem of educational inequality a lot worse. The kids in Epsom get qualified and experienced teachers while the kids I went to school end up with a revolving door system of untrained grads pumped up on slogans like ‘poverty is not destiny.’ This is true if the grads are saying that it is possible for some to overcome the effects of poverty, but not true if they are saying that teachers alone — and untrained teachers at that — have the power to do this. To me this is a failure of our public system that our ‘high flying’ graduates can spend 13 years in public education and not understand the causes of educational inequality go beyond teachers simply having high expectations because New Zealand schools and their communities have become so segregated by income and – yes lets address the elephant in the room- race.
I’m sure most of the graduates’ intentions are right, wanting to help, but you’ll excuse me if I’m a little cynical about what the motivations of the scheme’s backers really are. Is it really about closing the educational gap or is it about a broader agenda of getting the ‘right people‘ into the school system to pursue an agenda that the current teaching profession in New Zealand opposes; the introduction of the American-style corporate reforms of high-stakes testing for primary school kids, charter schools,
performance test-result-based pay for teachers, a narrowing of the curriculum and the closure of large numbers of ‘low performing’ public schools.
Because looking beyond the hype:
1. Far from a shortage there’s actually a glut of qualified beginning teachers looking for work. Most of the students from my course are still looking for teaching jobs which at this time of year means they don’t have a full-time teaching position for 2012 school year.
2. Teaching qualification programmes for graduates only take a year to complete. There are some not particularly generous scholarships available for teachers in areas like maths and science plus the graduate bonding scheme offers almost $20,000 in additional payments if teachers stay at least 5 years in some low-decile schools.
3. The recruits for Teach First only sign up for two years before they are free to pursue careers presumably at the corporate sponsors of the scheme. Our current system of teacher registration in New Zealand recognizes than even qualified teachers need support in the early years of teaching to become effective in the classroom. The commitment for Teach First ends just at the point when some teachers will be starting to hit their stride.
Do our neediest kids really need people who are only in the classroom as a two year OE in Otara before moving to glass offices in central Auckland?
I do agree with Teach First that teaching should be right up there with other professions as an attractive option for graduates. It annoys me to no end when I read the stories that pop up at this time of year about kids who have done exceptionally well in exams almost always have their sights set on doing law or possibly medicine at university. Why not teaching?
Part of the reason is money.
I have an Honours degree and my Teaching Diploma which equates to five years of full-time university study, two at graduate level, and have/will repay in excess of $30,000 on my student loan. I could have paid that loan off a lot faster in other professions not to mention the opportunity costs of a salary scale where I will hit the top pay rate in 5-6 years. Suffice to say that top rate doesn’t compare favourably to similarly-qualified jobs however finding the moments of teaching magic is why I’m in the classroom.
What scares me about Teach First New Zealand is that they are in effect saying to all aspiring teachers, not to mention the general public, that learning how to be a good teacher really isn’t that important. All teachers need is some innate talent and high expectations so that we can flip open these kids heads and shove it in and hey presto educational success! I haven’t been out in the sector long enough to say it with any authority but I don’t think that approach works. Because if it did, teachers and schools as we know it would have become redundant not long after Marconi developed the radio. All a learner would need to do is simply tune in to hear from an expert and they would learn too.
I really hate to snarl at people who are trying to help and I don’t doubt that the teachers who are selected will do a good job. After all they will be hand-picked out of likely hundreds of applications to ensure success and presumably will have a lot of support to do so. Because even with a year-long formal teaching credential and supervised student teaching under my belt, I know I still have a lot to learn about educating kids. I’m not sure what anyone could pick up in just six weeks to become an effective teacher of children living in New Zealand’s most deprived neighbourhoods by the time term 1 rolls around in 2013.
The question that needs to be asked is going down this road of de-professionalizing teaching in order to attract ’talent’ into our schools really a good use of educational resources?
Because there seems to be an awful lot of money going into a scheme that places a very small number of people into the profession but does little to keep them there over the long-term. In fact looking beyond the spin that’s found in the media Teach First describes itself as a ‘leadership development programme’ which suggests that building a capable teaching workforce in New Zealand is actually of secondary importance to the organisation. I’m at a loss as to why anyone would think our neediest kids should be subjected to untrained graduates developing their ‘leadership skills’ when they should have as of right highly qualified and competent teachers in their classrooms.
This scheme looks at best self-serving, at worst down right exploitative of the kids at the bottom of the heap.
Like many teachers I’m astounded by the National’s Party’s plan to test aspiring teacher’s personality. Is the party’s answer to every problem in education to test students? However the rest of the party’s teacher education policy, behind the more headline-grabbing ideas is well worth an examination.
The first is the party’s plans to make teaching a post-graduate only qualification. At the moment there are two routes into teaching. The 3 year undergraduate degree which a lot of primary school teachers study and the 1 year graduate diploma. Massey University has already jumped the gun and is planning to disestablish the four year direct-entry Bachelor of Education degree. This policy isn’t particularly new. It stems from recommendations made by the Education Workforce Advisory Report which was released in April last year.
Interestingly Singapore also has gone through a process of reviewing teacher education. What struck me about the Singaporean report was that there was a clear vision of what they wanted for their kids and then looked at how teacher education programmes could help teachers to develop their professional capabilities in response to this need. In contrast the New Zealand version is woeful both in terms of overall vision and the research to back up the report’s recommendations. .
This makes me think that the move to making teaching a graduate-only qualification has more to do with
productivity cost-cutting than any real desire to improve teacher education or elevate the the profession. As the OECD notes in report about the American system
“the best-performing countries are working to move their initial teacher-education programmes towards a model based less on preparing academics and more on preparing professionals in clinical settings, in
which they get into schools earlier, spend more time there and get more and better support in the process.”
So why are cutting back on the very degrees that offer clinical support? Because graduate diplomas are a lot cheaper for universities to run as the students are still at varsity studying for 4 years but the institution don’t have to maintain a large Faculty of Education to support the staffing demands of the Bachelor of Education.
What should concern everyone is that this potential narrowing of the curriculum for our would-be teachers. As it stands you don’t have time to study a large amount of child psychology, pedagogy or assessment theory in the 1 year course. Moreover at the primary level there isn’t much time to plug any gaps a student might have in their content knowledge. Given the breadth of the New Zealand curriculum, particularly at primary level, this is concerning.
But what is more concerning is that party supports putting graduates without any teaching qualifications into classrooms. I’ve already written about Teach First New Zealand a scheme where ‘high achieving’ graduates will be teaching in the classrooms of ‘low status‘ (their language) secondary schools after 6 weeks training for a period of two years. National has earmarked $200,000 towards supporting. Not much in the grand scheme of things but we’ll be hearing a lot more about this programme in the coming years.
The scheme is modeled on similar ones in the United States and United Kingdom and it is worth noting that both countries score lower on international student achievement studies than New Zealand. The research into direct-entry teaching schemes shows that teachers coming out of the programmes are less effective in the classroom and leave the profession at higher rates than rates than teachers who go through teacher certification programmes however these gaps close once the teachers become certified.
Nevertheless the introduction of the scheme has been hailed by many players inside and outside the education system. On first glance it has a nice narrative, high-achieving graduates who would otherwise be destined for the glass towers of Shortland Street riding into to save poor children for two years under the banner of educational equity. But when you look at the wider picture things come unstuck. There are hundreds of qualified teachers already looking for work which begs the question why we need to be placing unqualified teachers in classroom. Moreover the experience overseas shows that the teachers don’t come from the communities they teach and the two year commitment means they necessarily stick around much after their tenure is over. This makes the scheme look at best self-serving at worst down-right exploitative.
Given the small number of teachers (just 20 a year for the next 5 years) and large amount of private funding that appears to be supporting the initiative Teach First New Zealand, I’m sure the programme will be successful in terms of its stated goal of being an exclusive recruitment programme for recent graduates who will use the scheme as stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Unfortunately the type of educational leaders that theses schemes spawns are well, kind of evil. They are the type of ‘leaders,’ and I do use the term loosely, who take pleasure in using test scores to label schools as failing and see that as some kind of success rather than their failure to lead. And unfortunately they are the ones Tolley is talking to.
I’m sure detractors would argue I just another lazy teacher looking to avoid any sort of accountability in my job. Let me be clear that the type of accountability measures National are introducing are great if you want conformity and control. But if you after things like engagement and creativity, which is what you want if your goal is to keep kids interested in learning, then these sort of measures actually impede that goal.
There is also a nasty undertone from National that teachers are there primarily to serve the interests of the parents and that value-added incentives are the way to get there. This move is designed to pit parents against teachers and teacher against each other rather than trying to encourage a partnership so that we can all do the best for the kids (whose voices are almost completely absent from educational policy debates).
Least I be accused of being just another lefty teacher. Not all of National’s policies are bad. Their plans to rejuvenate school buildings are good and I’m cautiously optimistic about the Network for Learning. It’s just a shame that the money they are spending on 21st century buildings and technology will be wasted due to 19th century pedagogy and a smattering of colonial do-goodism thrown in for good measure.
It’s specialist week this week and with a choice of social science, technology and science I just had to go for science. Science is fun, science is magic, science starts with a cup of flour?
No I haven’t gone for food tech I’m growing something! I wonder what this goopy mess of flour and warm water is going to grow into? Right now it looks and feels a bit like play dough. I think I’ll leave it in this jar for a day and see what happens…
‘Isn’t twitter just people talking about what they had for breakfast?’
That’s the most common reaction I get when I mention my Twitter addiction. A lot of people don’t understand why I would want to virtually hang out with people I’ve met and have a conversation. What could you possibly say in 140 characters that could be of any meaning?
Outside of amazing ideas to implement in the classroom, there’s advice, support, professional contacts and something any student teacher would want, job leads.
Because Steven Johnson was right, chance does favour the connected mind, and my job search is over with a permanent position for 2012.
All up I applied for just 5 jobs in total, was short-listed to four schools (three of which I had Twitter contacts), had the difficult task of having to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to two amazing schools and ultimately received an offer from one of the schools I applied for hours after being interviewed.
Part of the reason I was able to generate a job offer was that I had a presence on MyPortfolio which the school who hired me also uses. University on the Hill doesn’t use MyPortfolio (something I will save for another rant) which gave me an immediate leg up over every other student teacher in the city who applied for this particular gig. How did I get a MyPortfolio account? Through sweet talking a contact I met on, yup you guessed it, Twitter.
But the thing with Twitter is that is so much more than just having a digital presence and general schmoozing. Instead of having just 2 Associate Teachers from my Teaching Experiences I have a network of hundreds of global educators who were contributing to my learning in just 140 characters.
I can talk about pedagogy without sounding like I was regurgitating a Whitney Houston song because of conversations I had on Twitter. Point to web tools I had implemented in my teaching practice which I found via Twitter. Most importantly I had a real idea about what the school I was applying about was about because I had already visited the school virtually through the classroom blogs which I found because the Principal of the school is on Twitter.
Now in case you are wondering I can do other things apart from tweet. My e-portfolio has videos I’ve made of student learning, great reports from my Associate Teachers and Visiting Lecturers, this blog demonstrates a commitment to reflective practice and having an Asian language is a big selling point to many New Zealand schools. All this gives me an added dimension to my e-learning obsession and in fact supports it.
So if you are passionate about arts, there’s a community somewhere go find it on Twitter.
If you are passionate about sports education, there’s a community somewhere go find it on Twitter.
Ditto for maths, science, social studies and just about every curriculum area, find or build your community on Twitter.
My advice to student teachers is simple.
Don’t spend most online life hanging out with other student teachers on Facebook pages closed off to the teaching world. Ultimately that community is constrained by one world view, that of the student teacher, which is a narrow perspective dominated by lectures and assignments. Your time in the teaching profession started when you enrolled in the course so come out from behind the digital walls and start connecting with the awesome teachers and principals out there on Twitter. You’ll learn heaps and all this learning might help you find a teaching job.
Wondering who to follow? Here’s just a few of the people who have helped me on my journey to start you off.
@heugumperNZ I owe you big time.
Thanks to @fionagrant, your tweet back in June really kick-started the readership to my blog.
I could go on…
So I will just say thanks so much to the awesome tweachers up and down New Zealand and around the world who helped this Student Teacher become a Beginning Teacher in 140 characters or less.
This video really makes me homesick for South Korea. Having lived there for four years, I’ll probably always have a soft spot for the country (and its neighbour to the North where I spent a fascinating week locked inside). I love how Tesco have used the internet and technology to bring its stores to the places people gather and interact. My question how do we the same to the world to education?
In some ways I already am.
I’m completing my teaching diploma via distance meaning I can study when I want and where I want. If I feel like spending the afternoon having a paddle board lesson, I can. If I’m going away on holiday, so long as I have access to an internet connection my studies don’t have to suffer. My university’s placement office has done a fantastic job of ensuring that in both my teaching experiences I have ended up with my first choice of schools. In short I’ve tailored my higher education to fit my needs rather than having to work my life around institutional demands. I’m guessing that as time goes by more students will making the same demands of our institutions.
How long will be before more students give up on the lecture-based model, which is the staple of undergraduate teaching, will last? Do universities really need to invest in large lecture halls when a student can access the best minds on the planet via podcast or you tube? What place does higher education have in the digital age?
1. Social connections
Alongside learning the theorists great works and how to write essays, perhaps the most useful part of my undergraduate degree was making connections with people who have turned out to be life-long friends. I also had access to some amazing lecturers during my time at university. The best course I have taken in my university career was a Women in Politics where our lecturer decided we would spend out class time on the grounds of Old Government House discussing the likes Mary Wollestonecraft, Harriete Mill and Bell Hocks under trees.
In order to enter a lot of professions, you need the piece of paper to say that you have the requisite skills and knowledge to be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/engineer/pharmacist etc. Generally the only place you can gain both the knowledge and piece of paper is at university.
3. Local content
I would argue that perhaps one of the buffers that universities have against the digitalisation is that institutions are important repositories of local expertise. There would be a lot of content in New Zealand teacher education that is irrelevant to overseas educators conversely gaining a teaching qualification in another jurisdiction might leave me with significant gaps in my knowledge to operate effectively within a New Zealand context.
In my case my current foray into the world of education serves one purpose: credientialing. In order to teach in classrooms, I need to fill some gaps in my knowledge and get the piece of paper saying I have done so. I haven’t made as many friends within my course as I did the last time around. However I have a small group of friends based in Auckland doing the course and an awesome online Personal Learning Network. A lot of my network have no connection at all with the university though some may have graduated from there, I think this is perhaps the most powerful aspect of online learning, the capacity for learning to take place outside of not only classrooms and cities but borders as well.
My main reason for choosing a New Zealand-based university is because I’m a New Zealand citizen which makes it a lot more cost-effective place to gain a qualification due to (relatively) cheap tuition and now that I am officially old I also get a student allowance. However globalisation is making people’s lives a lot more fluid. I’ve lived in three countries during my lifetime and there’s a chance I’ll live in more.
My main criticism would be that the institution is still relying very much on education 1.0 models. A lot of the information is hidden behind digital gates, the platforms that the course uses aren’t ones that students use or for that matter like. While some lecturers have been great about using online forums to interact with students, with others it feels like the content was cut and pasted from lecture notes and that’s all the interaction there is. There’s not much use of you tube nor of social media. Simply put it feels like the university isn’t part of the space I inhabit as a digital citizen. That’s not a good place for an institution to be in, yet I know that my university isn’t alone. But perhaps all educators, no matter the age of the students, need to ask ourselves this question: if your students can get their answers from somewhere else, what purpose do you have in their lives?
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 4.c
“Graduating teachers demonstrate high expectations of all learners, focus on learning and recognise and value diversity”
Graduating teachers focus on the learning. It seems like such a simple idea, you can talk about it, read it but actually doing it? That took me a long time.
For my first assignment for Teaching Diploma, I had to write an essay and draw metaphor around my theories of teaching and learning. I got an A for my discussions around learning theory but my metaphor I only ended up with a B, too much focus on the teaching was the feedback.
Did I take it on?
Nope the marker was being nit picky, it wasn’t my fault.
From there that I went into my first Teaching Experience all pumped up to do a good job of teaching kids. The problem with this approach is that because I spent so much time thinking about teaching I didn’t do much thinking about the learning. I was student teacher with a plan and I was sticking to it! More importantly because I was so obsessed about being good teacher I was afraid to make to mistakes, take risks and ask questions least I be called out as the imposter I most definitely felt like inside.
I passed my placement with good but not great feedback, I wanted to do better but was at a loss. I was taking on the feedback from my Associate Teacher so was open to the idea of learning but I was also way too focused on teaching. But the more teacher blogs I read and twitter chats I participated in, the more I realized what teachers were really interested in wasn’t teaching it was learning.
When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
In this case my teachers were 25 year 1/2 students and their fabulous teacher who would be Associate for my next teaching placement. I freely admitted when I went in that year 1/2 wasn’t my first choice of age group and I had no idea how to teach these young learners. So I stopped focusing on trying to teach and started thinking about learning.
When I found myself completely overwhelmed at the seemingly frantic pace of the teaching programmes I was undertaking instead of battling on I took a big breath and sloooowed down, deciding from guidance from my Associate that it was better to do a little bit really well rather than a lot not so well. And then the craziest thing happened, I could manage the programme that was causing me so many problems.
But more than anything what I found from teaching year 1/2 is that they really helped me to listen for the learning. Because the little snippets that sometimes seemingly come out of nowhere have great such great learning moments attached to them ‘why does my xlyophone have 2 Cs?’ ‘Is that snow?’ ‘Why does the equal sign not mean the ‘same as?’ When I stopped frantically trying to teach and really listened to the students, I found the learning moments I never thought I would see.
But more importantly being focused on the learning took a lot of the pressure off me to be perfect. If I make mistake now I don’t think ‘ZOMG I suck I am the worst student teacher ever.’ I think ‘ok that sucked now how am I going to do it differently next time?’
Because it is not a fail it is a
I used to think that if a teacher concentrated on good teaching then the learning would automatically follow. Now I think that if you focus on creating the right conditions for learning the good teaching will flow from that.
And now I wonder why that seemingly simple concept, graduating teachers focus on learning, took me eight long months to learn.