It’s a no brainer really. Why I’m a teacher. I have 180 contact days every twelve months. Now, multiply that figure by one over 365 (days in a year) and you will see that I work a mere half the (days of the) year. Everyone should be a teacher. It’s great. We’re always (if you round up the 50% stat) on holiday and we get to knock off at 3.30pm. Our days are filled with story-reading and marking smiley faces on coloured-in pictures of princesses and farm or jungle animals. There are hard days, too. It rains when we are on duty and our coffee gets wet when this happens.
My views on education have changed significantly since I was a schoolboy. Then, dragging myself off to school five days a week rewarded me with very little pleasure, purpose or direction. So in the sixth form, I reduced this to two or three days a week, but don’t tell my mother. I was a tall poppy, so was either in trouble a lot of the time, or ignored by teachers.
This was the case until I left secondary school in 19 mumble mumble to begin studying at the Wellington College of Education or Tea Coll as it was both crudely and affectionately known. I met and mingled with a kaleidoscope of amiable people who would go on to become exceptional teachers in primary schools across New Zealand and the globe. I was beginning to develop a grown up philosophy towards teaching and education. I always impressed myself with my ability to write assignments with only slight research and still be awarded with high marks.
Today, my thoughts on education have been arrived at through a swathe of experiences, discussions and training courses coupled with my progression into parenthood seven years ago. Six countries have hosted me as a teacher over the past 16 years.
To begin, I wish to state that I believe wholeheartedly the responsibility of educating children lies primarily and heavily with the parents of those children. Obviously, because we are law abiding citizens, we pack our children off to school. This is our way of helping children to learn to read and write, right? What if our children don’t do very well at school? What if they are unhappy most of the time? What is a normal school experience like nowadays? What is a great school experience like?
The best teacher my eldest son has had was at the worst school I worked at. Despite the shambles that was embedded into each and every procedure, my son’s teacher made sure he had a wonderful time, was challenged and had opportunities to work to his strengths. Bless her. The worst teacher he had – lazy, rude to children, a friend to the bottle and generally uninterested in children or learning, was at a school that had a reputation for being one of the best international schools there is. Funny that. Discuss.
Schools have spent thousands of dollars sending me to splendid locations to be trained on the latest methods of teaching and learning. A simplistic summary of the most recent courses I have attended might be:
- Teachers need to teach stuff to kids. Children can’t just work it out by themselves.
- The focus of schools should be children’s learning.
I have often wondered how far some systems must have fallen for this to be the latest mind-blowing stuff presented to educators in the 2000s. On reporting back to one head teacher following a course I attended, that we should concentrate our efforts on learning, learning and learning, I was startled to be furnished with the reply “That’s all very nice, but we have a lot of other things we need to do here as well”. Insert trombonic slide (high to low).
Both my sons, seven and four, love school. Their friends are there. Their teachers are delightful. The playground is awesome. The after-school clubs are a real blast, as are some of the excursions. For them, school is a meeting place where, if they are not careful, they learn things.
I would love to discuss further:
- what I believe is important for children to learn
- how best to relate to a school and specifically the teachers
- what to do when things go wrong
- alternatives to going to school.
What’s on your mind? How are your children doing at school? How do you feel about sending your toddlers off in a year or two?
My discussions frequently and blatantly (deliberately?) contradict themselves and leave people either nodding up and down or reminding me that I’m a tall poppy.
Michael is a primary-school teacher, famous for letting children in his class read in a bathtub full of cushions as a treat. He’s also a skateboarding legend. He is contributing guest posts for this series. Please ask him your questions and let us know what you want to hear about.