Written by Marilyn Gwilliam, Principal, Papatoetoe Central School
I found it hard to know where to begin with this one. Anyone who has spent a day in a classroom or been a helper on a class trip or school camp would most likely have the same problem. While teaching can be immensely rewarding, it is demanding and often challenging.
It always brings it home to me when I see parents slightly weary after a day out on a class trip, in search of a cup of tea and a quiet corner to put their feet up.
I believe that most of our teachers are super stars and what they accomplish daily, is nothing short of astonishing. Most of them are learners themselves, willing to take risks, to try new things, excited by learning and their optimism rubs off on the students they teach. We can all think of special teachers who influenced our own lives.
Even though they describe the current climate in the schooling sector as confusing, chaotic and disheartening, most of them are simply getting on with the job – teaching skilfully, minute by minute, day by day. They do not waste important learning time.
So much is expected of them and they just seem to get on with it. I don’t hear them complaining about their students, their workload or the schools they teach in.
I do however, hear them catching up with each other after the end of the day, sharing their stories, talking about what they tried and what worked, or what they need to change.
I do hear them talking about their students and their progress. They do share resources, ideas and strategies in support of each other and in support of the students they are teaching.
I have an absolute sense of a shared endeavour amongst teachers, of a constant desire to make a difference daily for their students, a complete commitment to their learning and to improving their achievement levels. Most care deeply about their students and their overall wellbeing.
They spend their days at school working out how to address students’ learning needs and when they go home at night, they often still think about how best to do this critically important work. They find it hard to let it all go.
Some people say that teachers don’t like change, yet it is the one constant in their professional lives. As governments come and go along with their various recipes to fix up schools and the people who work in them, teachers just seem to simply get on with it.
Each year, they have different groups of students to teach and with these students come new challenges and learning and teaching considerations. Even if their students have special learning or behavioural needs or speak little or no English, most teachers just adapt their classroom programmes and get on with teaching them. It is highly skilled work and they are very good at it.
Michael Fullan, a leading researcher in the area of school improvement, suggests that educational change simply depends on what teachers do and think. Our teachers are indeed agents of change, they are in positions of influence and their views and perspectives need to be acknowledged and respected.
How much genuine consultation with teachers have we seen lately? How involved do our teachers feel with the current schooling agenda? How much alignment is there with current social policies and the genuine needs of many New Zealanders? How much input are individuals, groups and professional organisations having in the current decision making processes?
It seems to me that the very people who can contribute the most are the very people not involved in the current debate. Our teachers feel that they have been isolated from it because there is a perception that they have nothing of any value to add to it.
I do know that what is good for teachers, is good for the students they teach. I do know that teachers often do some of their best work with the students who need them the most. I do know that they are well worth listening to.
And I genuinely believe, that most of New Zealand’s teachers are indeed, super, super stars.