I have just finished a ten week stint, my first experience of the reality of classroom life with sole responsibility. I reflected on this last night with a classmate of mine from our teacher education. We reflected on that which we had learnt and how much of it was particularly relevant to our teaching. We decided that as great as it was that we were under prepared for many of the situations that we faced. In saying that is there anything but experience that prepares you for situations like this… excuse me (insert your choice of name) would you please take your earphones out, no electronic devices in class. Reply, “f**k off sir.”.. , this is followed by a calm response where I mime the removal of the earphones, the reply would you like me to knock you out sir”? A rhetorical question, surely! Now past training in nonviolent crisis intervention kicked into action, calm voice, distant and decisive action resolved the situation quickly, the end story is inconsequential but the question is the same. What, how, when do we teach when we are dealing with that kind of behaviour.
The thing is teaching is only one facet of education. Yes there is a degree of transfer of knowledge, techniques, skills and ways of thinking that enable students to engage in the world. English gives students access to the understanding, knowledge, and skills they need to participate in the social, cultural, political, and economic life of New Zealand and the wider world. So we as educators know the importance of learning, we have an inherent understanding of what happens if you are unable to make meaning of text or an inability to create or share meaning through text. Some stats show that 90 percent of prison inmates are not functionally literate. Whilst this is an appalling statistic literacy is much more important than just keeping people out of jail. We need literacy to function in society in any meaningful form, it just is that way, critical and without it the fabric of society falls apart. Literacy in itself will not solve the problems that face our society but it is one of the building blocks, a foundation stone that is critical in our modern society.
How do we reach past the barriers at the sharp end of education? How do we reach the disengaged, disillusioned, disaffected, tail that is represented in the majority of our schools. The students that Government is demanding that we help achieve. Firstly there needs to be a reality check. There will always be some people who do not achieve, they often find a way to navigate in society, sadly some do not and become statistics, we don’t live in a utopian society. My purpose is not to dwell on that which we cannot do but that which we can. So I can talk to the cows come home of early intervention, intensive programs, community initiatives, technology. None of this matters in the end unless it has an essential ingredient. What it needs is people with passion, people whom understand teaching is a work of the heart. Teachers who are able to ignite students to create an alternative narrative around their lives. Teachers need to be modeling that which they believe, students spot fraudulence at fifty feet. It isn’t the grand gestures that make the difference, it is just the small ones, being honest, apologising, being enthusiastic. Government needs to understand before it heaps another measurement tool or another performance indicator on those at the coal face, the effect of that. Teachers are busy people, try herding 18 cats with fireworks tied to their tails last period on a Friday! Then tell them that they need to spend half the weekend marking,planning and reflecting on their week, I suggest that you do it from a distance.
Students spot passion, they are drawn to it and they will respond to it. As a teacher I need to remind myself of this and to have it at the forefront of all that I do. I am human and there are days when my passion would be difficult to find, sometimes it has to be put on like a mask but if it is a truly held passion then once on it kind of clicks into gear and finds its groove.
What I know about teaching English, that is the mechanics of it, in comparison to many teachers who have been around for years would barely fill a postage stamp. But I know about passion and I recognise it when I see it. My motto in life is if I must be condemned for anything let it be for my passion, not mediocrity.
Mediocrity in any form is a creeping cancer destroying all that it is sinks it’s tentacles into, so whatever it is in life that you do, do it with passion and purpose. Do what you love and love what you do. I love teaching!