Well it’s been a while.
This week I had the pleasure of attending the Australian College of Educators national conference (#ACE2016NC). I also had the honour of facilitating the “early career” teacher stream with Cameron Paterson (@cpaterso).
The conference covered many topics, including: research into initial teacher education, policy trends and shifts in education, the future of work & its impact in education, the early years and importance of investment in them, and more. The most compelling for me were, of course, those directly related to the working and learning lives of teachers and students in schools.
A stark reminder was given to us by Dr Diane Mayer, incoming Dean of Education at the University of Sydney, that 30-50% of teaching graduates leave the profession in the first 5 years. Economists should shudder at this. Parents should lament this on behalf of their children. Teachers know this – and see wave after wave of potentially amazing teacher burn out at a rate never seen before, or never get a decent shot in the first place.
So how do we best support teachers in the first years of their degree? One way amongst others is to listen to them. That’s why Cam and I tried to draw out of our colleagues (both early, mid and later career) their aims, their challenges and their strategies for not only their own practice but how we can support the profession as a whole.
As always, we were more powerful as a whole than simply the sum of our parts. Advice was free flowing, support was positive and humble, hierarchies were flattened. It really is wonderful to see educators who usually work in vastly different contexts connect and share over a common bond.
Following the ACE conference, I attended and presented at the Australian Catholic University’s Ready, Steady, Teach pre-service teacher day, talking about being work ready in the non-government sector in NSW. Naturally (and probably thanks to being immersed in national conversations at ACE) the discussion went very broad very fast, to their potential experience in other states and territories as well as other countries. It’s amazing how keen Australians can be about travelling and working overseas – not something that comes naturally to people from all nations.
Again, I was attempting to inspire some spark (or fan the flame if already present) of passion for teaching. The unfortunate reality is that teaching and teachers are bombarded every minute with sometimes well-meaning but often deeply ignorant views about what we do and how we do it. As a profession we need to push back when we can, citing the expertise we have, the wealth of evidence available to support us (and not just that chosen by some), and the fact that teaching is a thing in itself, with elements of art and science and performance and psychology and so much else.
My final source of inspiration for the week was the History Teachers’ Association of Australia national conference (#HTAA16), of which I was only able to attend a small slice. After ducking in to work to get a few things done, I was able to attend in time to catch a talk by two articulate, passionate and reflective teachers from Loreto Kirribilli who were describing how and why they used Guided Inquiry to engage students in History. In a world where faddish approaches to teaching and learning are rife, these teachers demonstrated the power of when teachers are the ones in the driving seat, not a detached commercial or even academic entity.
I hope my presentation on Twitter, TeachMeet and Tariq Ali spurred some deep thinking on how we engage ourselves and our students in History. I really just told a few stories of things I’ve tried (and failed and succeeded with) and gave people time and space to explore, test and discuss with colleagues. Too many conferences don’t actually have time to confer.
Teaching is indeed central to the creation of other professions. In a time where students will have multiple careers in multiple industries, and in a time of automation and rapid globalisation of work, having a strong leader of learning during our formative years has never been more important. The sage on the stage may be dead, but we still have a critical role to play.
It’s been a great week for my learning – I hope you’ve had one too!