Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends, Once More ......." ..........Until We Finnish.

I told myself that I would not do this, I promised I would give myself a long, long, long, break from teaching but within a month I had been rung up and asked to help out for a day at my old school - so I went. I took along my trusty guitar, my song charts and really, really, really enjoyed myself.

Since then I have relieved around the town in a number of schools and enjoyed myself immensely.

I am told that being a grandparent is "all care and no responsibility." I am not a grand parent yet but that term could well apply to relief teaching. You walk in, teach, and walk out again at the end of the day and leave, really leave everything, except the joy of the day, at the school - the baggage stays behind.

Its a sad commentary on, but enlightening as well, to feel that freed from the worries of a vastly overloaded curriculum, perpetual compliance testing and the internal school politics distorted by stress and worry there is time to connect - I like that word - Connect! in an authentic way with children and their learning - Its been a time to smell the communication roses, to see, feel, hear and interact with childrens smiles, laughter and intelligence - To wonder at that uninhibited rising sap of enthusiasm that is the lifeforce that drives growing lives.

Retiring from it all has also been a time to reflect and read a little about the direction of New Zealand schools. We do some things well, but in terms of some of the changes that are presently being wrought it seems to me that we have lost our direction - We should start looking at the compass again. The compass points to the empirical data, not anecdotal evidence or the whimsy of totally ignorant and misinformed politicians.
What does the data tell us? Well, the country that tops the charts educationally is Finland. Since the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) began in 2000, Finnish students have ranked at or very near the top in science, maths and reading. Their high performance has seen educators and policymakers from around the world including NZ flock to Finland to learn more.

What they find is a Primary School system with a number of features. New Zealand schools share hardly any of these features, neither do any other schools that have been influenced by the neo liberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s. Policies that turned to market driven educational reforms - more testing, greater accountability on teachers, increased competition etc.

In Finland:
-All children start school in August of the year they turn seven.
-Class sizes are around 20.
-NO nationalised standards or testing, although teachers
use a range of everyday assessment tools for student learning.
-A high level of teacher autonomy. NO national school
inspection or review process. Municipipalities govern and
monitor local schools.
-The teaching profession is highly valued in Finnish society.
Only one in seven applications for teacher training are accepted.
-Teacher education is research based and to high academic
standards. Students graduate with a five year masters degree, and there's no probationary period.
-The school day starts at 8.30am and finishes around 1.30pm.
-Relatively few teacher staff meetings.
-All students provided with a hot meal daily, free health and
dental care, and all learning materials.
-All students receive the same comprehensive schooling for
the first nine years.
-Finnish teachers are held in such high regard
(because they and the system deliver) they top polls of the
most respected profession.

As our new and very stupid government (You know, the ones who want to rip the guts out of our national parks by mining them) embarks on a system of national testing and national standards (against all the international evidence and advice) - they need to listen to the advice and good will of the teaching profession, international experience, international educational advice - those who have the real interests of kids and their learning at heart, not misinformed populist policies.

Food for thought.



Ben Bongers said...

Indeed food for thought, Alden.
It is very clear that you like teaching a lot. The more sad it is that you stopped and now more than ever realize that bureaucracy collects its toll. It is a sort of international illness that goes around in educational centers.
Connecting and interacting is what professional teachers do and like. Because they are professionals, well trained and their knowledge kept up to date, they are the experts. Therefore capable of judging the quality of the education and what works for which pupil.
Too much energy goes into management things like control and performance measurement.
The problem is that among policymakers there is a very big misunderstanding that the organizational model for a school is the Machine bureaucracy (Mintzberg). (See Charie Chaplin “Modern Times”). To my opinion the professional bureaucracy applies more. (The word bureaucracy used in its original meaning, without any negative connotation). Looking at the Finns, I am pretty sure that they embrace the professional model.
How to change this is very difficult. Machine bureaucracies have a tendency to grow and to keep themselves busy. The only answer is revolution, when you reason consequently. Start your own school???

Alden Smith said...

Ben, this is a very insightful response to my blog - thankyou - I can see that you really do understand what I am talking about.

An environment of trust and security (the security to even make mistakes) is the cataylst that releases human creativity and commmitment. Regulations, rules, punishments,compliance,testing,
dogma etc always mitigate against the growth of independence and responsibility.
If you take this negative workplace ethos and subject it onto a society, you have an elete who don't trust, hence the secret police and a stulifying legion of laws and prohibitions - its all anti life.
Despite the fact that a very small minority will always abuse any trust that is invested in them it is Trust that brings to life a workforce and from which everything elses flows - indentification, ownership, commitment,'going the extra mile', problem solving, professional development and a sense of pride that works hard to maintain standards.
Also, by not conspiring to control and test everything we allow room for what is really a transcedent quality to emerge - inspiration, hunches, creative problem solving etc.
No professional body in any country is without its problems and failures but there are some ways of organising and delivering this professionalism that is a lot better than other ways - a sledge hammer approach is not one of them.

"The only answer is a revolution" as you say Ben?

Viva la revolution is what I say.

Janice said...

Better yet, Alden, perhaps we could convince the Finns to come and take over our school systems; Canada has the same sort of nonsense going on in education. It has been my experience that politicians don't really give a fat rat's arse about education, especially if it costs the government money. I'm not sure what it is they are doing with all that cash we give them, but they certainly aren't using it to better the lives and futures of our children. Beam me up Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here!

Alden Smith said...

Janice, Its the idea that business models of production are transferable to education. The trouble is teachers and schools can't control every aspect of the equation in the way that for example a factory can that is producing automobiles. So much of the equation is out of our control. In an effort to control the uncontrollable governments are continually mandating and remodeling the education landscape. This continued change brings with it a dislocation and disorientation for both teachers and pupils.
In a factory you use a system, say - TQM (total quality management) to control the quality of the product. In teaching it is more about tending the culture of the school (and all that that entails), and in doing so, producing a life enhancing environment where animate objects (children and teachers) as opposed to inanimate objects (automobiles) cooperate to live and grow and learn - this process is not linear like a car assembly line - it is more like the complexity, balance and vulnerability of a equatorial rainforest.
The key to childrens learning is quality teaching within a quality learning environment, not continual endless testing and measuring, marking and ranking and blaming and shaming through public league tables - the international experience is unequivical - none of this leads to educational improvement in schools.
What do we do? - Taking a look at what Finland dooes would be a good start.
AND ---- STOP this bullshit about public education being in some sort of crisis - ITS NOT - In New Zealand, for 150 years children have been going to school and going out into the workforce - our well educated children compete well on the domestic and international stage and NZ as a whole stacks up pretty well in every way with comparable OECD countries. Lets not rest on our laurels of course, but as we go forward lets listen to those at the chalkface who actually know a little bit about all of this :-)

May 10, 2010 8:35 PM

Katherine said...

Only one comment Alden et. al: "Amen". I did my diploma in 2000. By 2002 I was a disillusioned and stressed-out teaching wreck. In 2003- 2007 I tried (and enjoyed) the Montessori style, and still believe in this. However, it is top-downed by all the same requirements as other schools in NZ, and is very compromised. If you start your own school (I have investigated this) you still get visited by the administering body, the ERO, as do even homeschoolers in NZ. And I homeschooled my three children, too, so I know.
It's all a horrible, sad muddle, and passionate teachers are penalised, or don't even think of qualifying. I don't know the answer. The quality of the children's education is dropping, and the government know it: now the panic-stricken emphasis on *only* literacy and numeracy means that science, technology and the arts and hardly getting a look in, and so young NZ people of the future are going to have even fewer scientific and imaginative strings to their bow... people who read TLVD and know me, know I don't usually take such a pessimistic view of anything. But on this one I have many and very real concerns.

Thank you for letting me rant Alden.

Oh, and I too do relief teaching. That's why they call it a 'relief' ha ha.

Dan Gurney said...

Yes, yes! Especially in the youngest grades, we should all be about loving school, being happy, learning kindness and focus, and connecting with each other.

I am so glad you're loving relief teaching (we call it subbing!).

More, more!

Alden Smith said...

Katherine, I agree with what you say especially the role of the arts in the school curriculum - we sideline this area at our peril AND if we do ignore the arts we end up with pupils not unlike Kumaras that have been taken out of the Hangi too soon i.e. Half Baked - not unlike many politicians.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, you are right, the education system should never be one thing only, it must educate the total child in terms of skills, attitudes, knowledge and experiences.

In New Zealand its called 'relief' teaching, in the USA 'subbing' and in the UK its called 'supply' teaching - all amounts to the same thing.

babbler said...

Oh Ratty! Oh Dear Moley! I must find Mr. Badger at once!
I would stay longer and comment on your very interesting conversation here, but alas, I must head out to make some hay while the sun shines. Please come visit me at Slug's Rest sometime, for I shall certainly be back to say hello again. Keep smiling - Have a very fun and profitable Tuesday! Love, "Mrs. Slug"

Alden said...

I wasn't aware there was a Mrs Slug in the 'Wind In The Willow' but thankyou for visiting my Blog, I shall badger you by visiting and commenting on yours :-)