Good teaching comes from professionals who are valued.It comes from teachers who know their students, who build relationships, who meet learners at their point of need and who recognise that there’s nothing standard about the journey of learning.
I think about all the learning students do that can never be measured, quantified, weighed and accounted for.
How I’ve taught them to share or co-operate or have confidence or tie their shoelaces. I think about students learning for the joy of it, not for the test of it – learning science because they love it, not because ‘they perform well’ in it.
I’ve not yet met Saran’s dad, but Saran proudly tells me he is very very busy at their restaurant. He should have started kindergarten (prep) last year. She does Irish dancing lessons and demonstrates an elaborate jig for all the students who are waiting at the bus lines. I’ve had a meeting with someone from Family and Community Services every day this week. Davey vomited his cake straight into his school bag. All day I had been trying to complete the end-of-year assessments for my last six students; a task that requires a minimum half-hour one-on-one with each. Pressure to meet the standards, regardless of the needs of individual students, means that the little details must fall away. I have had to dull my once-engaging lesson sequences. Brightly coloured spontaneity fortified with professional judgment has been replaced with black-and-white standardisation and a judicious critique of every child’s work. I feel guilty and I hate the way my students look at me: expecting praise, getting none.
Her mum came to see me yesterday – Trudy’s folks are separating. No wonder she is such an angry little five-year-old. His father, Dave Snr., just laughed when I told him and scruffed Davey on the head. won’t talk about Davey’s aggression, tells me they don’t have a problem with it at home. He likes holding up the extra half finger to show me. But that morning the principal had been in to film our literacy block for the school’s participation in the Collaboration on Student Achievement (Co SA) project. Now I must begin by planning the assessment, consider how students will show what they’ve learnt and pre-determine what they are going to learn. Classrooms have become test-driven places where students learn to colour circles marked A, B, C and D. Their eyes pierce mine: I become no more than the slippery, laminated sheet encasing the testing regime.
It is considered something purely technical and methodical that can be rationalised and weighed.
But quality teaching isn’t borne of tiered ‘professional standards’.I was scared my teaching would be judged critically.I was scared of neglecting students by prioritising paperwork over their needs. I dream up a new paradigm of education, something that isn’t a reconstruction of an old industrial model. We need ingenuity, creativity and a profound commitment to our teachers, schools and students. I think about schools focused on ‘students and learning’ not on ‘performance and results’.We cannot forget the of teaching – without it, schools become factories, students become products and teachers: nothing more than machinery.Here’s the thing: a national curriculum does not guarantee engagement or achievement, no matter how glossy and persuasive the buzzwords are. At the parent–teacher interview, Saran’s mother nods while I speak, nods again as the older sister translates. He is tightly loved by his lonely single mum who keeps him home for company. She will be six in fourteen sleeps and her confidence is delightful, she can write her name and count to 109. His mum brought in lactose-free, gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free cupcakes, trying to appease all the students’ dietary needs. Contemporary Australian education wants test results and data. She clambered onto my lap like a much younger child and cried: ‘If I don’t get a good result I won’t get in to St. Each student receives individual results but the collective results for each school are made public on a website called and a list of the top schools published in league tables. Apparently I’m more valuable as an assessor, an examiner, a data collector. He is embarrassed when I ask him about the Hindi he speaks at home. Canberra just rang asking why our data isn’t entered.’ It was a desperate feeling. Fundamental to this model is the idea of standardising. But contemporary Australian education doesn’t want to hear the story of my class roll. On the morning of the first exam a student named Alice Heart ran into our classroom sobbing. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is conducted annually for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.Watching children learn is a beautiful and extraordinary experience. Teachers and principals face continual pressure to make schools ‘like something else’. Yet in Australia today this incredible and important profession is being reduced to the sum of its parts. Each decision made keeps us stuck in an archaic learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic potential. The names might vary, the ages and issues too, but ultimately every class roll is a story, if someone would just care to listen. There’s something sinister happening to this profession that I loved. I was instructed not to teach art or PE, only what was on the test until the exams were over and then I could teach ‘whatever I wanted’. Doggedly pursuing a ‘world-class’ education program by following in the footsteps of big brothers Europe, the US and Asia.I fill an entire page with notes: new addresses, schedules, buses. The smell of sour milk and cow shit hangs around Dave Snr. I am not meant to, but I wrap my fingers around his and watch how Ray’s dark skin contrasts against my white pallor. I am able to create a feeling of family and safety and security. After recess, students from Year 1 came into my class for maths since their ability required they worked at this remedial level. According to standard testing procedure, we are not to give feedback. I’m pointing to the number six and I can hear my student thinking this is the tricky one – is it nine or is it six? Even the classes not subjected to NAPLAN endure ongoing formal assessment from teachers turned examiners who must procure benchmarks, reach standards and gather data. This testing costs me dearly – it costs me time with my learners, it costs my energy, it costs me the trust of my students.I can feel Trudy’s confidence slipping away as the ground shifts beneath her dancing feet. He told me once he doesn’t want to be Koori anymore. Our once-a-fortnight for half-a-day school counsellor probably wouldn’t know what to say to that either. In my classroom they know they can take risks and try new things and experience failure while being supported by me and by each other. They come to love the taste of reading, the flavour it adds to their life. I couldn’t assess with extra students in the class. It is his first correct answer but I can’t congratulate him. Blocks are being stacked as a tall and wobbling tower. But it’s costing Australia too – the price of our young minds and their desire to learn.