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.
-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.