The first week has passed. Students in awkwardly fitting uniforms and teachers with awkwardly fitting sleep patterns returned to school around Australia. Smiles and nerves and even a bit of learning: the first week is a time to begin building relationships or, at the very least, work out where your classroom is.
There is so much to digest during this week, even if teachers do get some time to plan and meet and get prepared. Timetables, laptops, class lists, new platforms and procedures, Child Protection training and/or CPR and First Aid, team meetings and curriculum mapping… there’s a lot to do even before a child enters the school gates. As we deal with all the operational issues to do with running schools effectively and establishing a sound base from which learning can happen, we can’t forget that teachers do amazing things daily. Some are truly outstanding people.
I’m not saying that an outstanding teacher needs to arrive two hours before the bell and leave 2 hours afterwards. It’s not about time alone. I’m not saying it’s the teacher who coaches three sport teams and volunteers for teacher associations and [insert other possible activities here]. I’m talking about the teacher who commits to do the best they can for their students with the resources they have available. The teacher who cares enough to include students in the process of learning. The teacher who knows enough about their student to tailor the classroom experience as much as possible to the people.
And who decides what is ‘outstanding’ or ‘standard’ or ‘sub-par’ anyway? Often it is people or protocols that are external to the context. To me, it should be our professional peers who inform those assessments. Despite our differences of opinion on so many issues, like most other professions we should be able to stand together and make clear, critical evaluations of our work. Not for punitive reasons, but in fact the opposite. We should celebrate success in whatever form it takes. If you baulk at the idea of teachers self-evaluating, perhaps first apply the same thinking to doctors, lawyers, real estate agents and financial advisers, all of whom currently do so.
Australian journalist and author Julia Baird (@bairdjulia) wrote in the Age this week about her feeling of delight in her friend’s good fortune – her freudenfreude – when she was announced as Local Hero of the Year in the Australian of the Year awards. In teaching, we are often quick to criticise and point out perceived deficiencies in the system or indeed each other. We can’t afford to do this too much. With young and early-career teachers leaving the profession in the first 5 years in higher numbers, with increasing retirements of baby boomer teachers taking their experience with them, with increasing pressures and demands on teachers with more and more layers and types of accountability, we need to make ourselves delight in each others’ success.
We need to actively support teachers when they make progress with difficult students (who are often ‘difficult’ because of factors out of their control). We need to praise teachers for the hard work they do (which is often seen as ‘part of the job’ by the teacher as the bubble of expectation grows). We need to have conversations with parents and students about their goals and aspirations and give support to teachers in helping to achieve them (Gonski funding comes to mind).
So much of teaching is about empathy and connection. We sometimes forget that although we expect superhuman efforts from our teachers, they don’t wear a cape and it takes a lot less than Kryptonite to seriously harm their self-efficacy.
Most importantly, we need to trust teachers to be professional until they prove they aren’t. In my experience, we will rarely be disappointed.
Let’s have freudenfreude sweep through the profession so that not only do we stop the increasing flow of talented teachers leaving but also so that teachers can stand tall and say: I am a professional and I can help your child achieve their dreams.