It’s the beginning of a new school year
and I’m remembering. I’m remembering all of the teachers I had who made a great difference in my life. They believed in me; they knew that I could do what was asked of me; they encouraged me to try; they inspired me to learn; they were role models for me of how to treat everyone with caring and humanity. And, even though they didn’t know it, they were my mentors throughout my teaching career. I always strived to be the kind of educator they had been. I’m remembering the few teachers I had who were not the kind of teacher I needed in my life. Even they were guides in my teaching career in an odd way. From them, I learned about the kind of educator I didn’t want to be. I’m remembering the kids I went to school with. Some were bullies and many were friends. I’m remembering all of the students I had the privilege of teaching throughout my career. While some of them might have been challenging, most were not and all of them made me a better educator.
And I’ve been thinking about the fact that it is still ‘sexy’ to bash teachers and bemoan the state of the education system.
Even before I started teaching over 40 years ago, I heard people insist that teaching was a ‘cushy’ job– a 5 day week with only 7 hours a day in school, a week long holiday in March, two months paid holiday over the summer. Teaching didn’t require extra training I was told. It was not creative because all that was taught was already held knowledge and how difficult could it be to get kids to regurgitate facts on demand? So, how hard could teaching be? Teachers had access to an iron rice bowl – once they got a position, they could be there for life.
The product of education is people.
None of these people who commented and still comment on the state and fate of education ever consider that the product of education is not stuff – a commodity that can be quantified and sold like something that comes off any form of assembly line. The product of education is people. Educators have a major impact on the people their students become. What they do is important.
And none of these uninformed people consider all that is required of educators. Not only do educators need a solid grounding in the content of the subjects which they teach, they also need to understand how to work with people. They need to have good questioning skills, excellent listening skills, and the ability to adjust how they cover the content of their courses in order to meet the learning needs of the students in their classes. Educators are not just deliverers of content. They are planners and writers and creators of course material. They are assessors. They are also psychologists. They are support workers. And they are significant others in the lives of their students.
In order to be effective with every student, educators need the timeto understand and work with each student –
to know who they are, how they see themselves, what they believe of their ability, how they learn best. This cannot be accomplished when the focus is on the stuff to be crammed into each student’s brain and not on the whole student – when the content is more important than the person who is learning it. And it is very hard to accomplish this when teachers are now being required to teach larger and larger classes. When this happens, the amount of time educators have to know each individual student is exponentially reduced. And, unfortunately, more and more students will end up falling behind as they experience difficulty understanding the course content. And that inevitably will lead to some students acting out from frustration and fear. This, in turn, will impact the learning of all students.
This year, even though the Premier of this province promised that it would not happen, there are fewer classroom teachers and support workers in schools.
Teachers are being expected to work with classes which are often significantly larger than the maximum class sizes which educational experts agree can provide students with optimum learning conditions. And there are fewer supports being provided for students who have learning exceptionalities. This impacts their ability to negotiate the content of the courses which they take. So everyone – students and educators and parents — is being negatively affected by these changes: changes which severely affect the learning experience of everyone.
Educators who question these changes and worry about the learning conditions for their students are being told that they are lazy – that they are behaving like entitled brats and that they should be grateful that they have a job at all. And, if the unions representing educators and support staff complain about these changes to the educational conditions under which their members are expected to work and which they know will impact the students in their members’ charge, they are being called communists and rabble rousers.
When I was completing my teacher training, the teachers of the then Toronto District School Board and the other boards surrounding it, finally decided that they had no recourse but to go on strike on order to ensure that they had fair working conditions. These working conditions, all teachers knew, would have a direct impact on the students they taught. I get it that students and parents can be inconvenienced when teachers make the decision to engage in any form of job action. I also know that deciding to withdraw services to any degree is not something which any educator chooses to do easily. As I watch events unfold and political decisions being made which will affect the students of this province and which will have an impact on the future of us all, I fear that the system will break down to such a degree that it will take an inordinate amount of will and effort to reclaim and repair it. I wonder if it can be done. Will it be possible?
In the meantime, the system, thanks to our Premier, is leaving too many students adrift.