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" I come to it because I love young people,
A friend of mine said that I should do a blog about education and teaching and I’ve resisted it for a long time because, well, I fear the repercussions of spilling the beans on a bureaucracy that keeps thousands of people employed and is a foundational system in our societal structure. But I won’t write about that today. I will preface by saying, many of my friends are teachers and brilliant ones at that – or else we wouldn’t be friends!!
Compulsory education as we understand it today only originated a couple of hundred years ago and was initially for the wealthy and via the churches. But in recent years education has become all about what is included in the curriculum and cramming as much curriculum down the throats of children as humanly possible in a year.
What this has created is an achievement-oriented system and if you are not achievement oriented, if you are a critical thinker and are willing to challenge authority, if you struggle with basic numeracy, literacy and social skills, well, this system is not for you, you fail and you start believing that you are worthless.
It is a system that rewards obedience and conformity and opposes creativity and stifles individuality. It is a system that labels children from a young age as being failures for being unable to achieve an outcome. Is it any wonder that children of adolescent age in Western culture struggle with adolescent “angst” more than any other culture when achievement and conformity is such a high priority. We spend the rest of our adult lives trying to get back to the person who we were born to be!
The other thing that the achievement-oriented system has done is taken away time for teachers who really care about young people to put into relationships with young people. It is creating inordinate stress on teachers from Governments, Principals and Senior Teachers which filters to teachers who then, unwittingly take their stress out on young people – the very people we are trying to help!
I have been a “teacher” for 20 years this year and have come and gone from it over the years. I come to it because I love young people, I love their individuality, their stories, their inner strength, their humanity. There has only been about two or three students that I have come across in this time who fall into the psychopath/sociopathic tendencies that I felt incapable of helping which says a lot about the majority of people. I hope that in some way I have inspired young people to be the best that they can be. Yet, in staffrooms everywhere, I have heard young people labelled as “stupid”, “idiots” or “brainless”.
I quit teaching as a full-time career because I very much dislike the culture of educators, the expectations placed on young people from above without any allowance for their own inner drive. I now do casual relief teaching and am now just a witness to the inner workings of school cultures and overwhelmingly, the way students are spoken about in the staffroom are not about “How can I help this young person get calm/centred/happy?” but about a dismissive “oh, he’s an idiot”. As both a parent and educator, I am mortified by this dehumanising of young people.
Teachers are like pseudo parents and for too many young people we are role models for absent parents, so when we call them “idiots” we are not being supportive or providing opportunities to empower the next generation. Last year I witnessed a teacher yelling at a 17-year-old young man because he was surfing the internet and not doing his work, the way this boy was treated was disgusting (and yes, I have informed the principal about this incident). My approach, always, is to build relationships. In that same lesson, I saw a boy surfing the internet and I sat down beside him, discussed his interest in the topic before redirecting him to his work. The difference? I built a relationship with that young man – and I’m a casual staff member!! The other teacher alienated that young man from ever seeking her advice or help or even any respect.
Teaching isn’t about forcing behaviours/curriculum/social structures into young people but giving opportunities for learning but still need to give kids a window into the world so that they know their choices. Infinite choices abound in this Universe. Ultimately, teaching is about building relationships with young human beings. We demonstrate to them with our words and actions what it means to be a wonderful human being and unfortunately, whilst there are an amazing number of incredible educators out there, there are also far too many people who really need to move on from the profession – some of them don’t even like young people!
I think part of the problem is that many teachers leave high school, straight to university and then back into schools, they know no world other than the education system. Then they stay in the same role/grade/subject/school for 20-30 years without ever pushing their own inner boundaries. We need educators who see kids firstly as human beings with their own needs/dreams and hopes but also have travelled, or have alternative life experiences, or are widely read, or have diverse friendship groups in their own lives so that they can bring their life wisdom and their full selves into the classroom. What kids need is adults who are authentic, loving, caring and can admit when they don’t know something so we can create a world that is the same. Just having an extensive knowledge of a subject or topic is not enough.
I became a teacher because at the end of year 12 when careers were being decided, I loved sport, and four more years of sport in a Physical Education degree sounded like fun. A simple twist of fate in 1992 that meant that I got my first preference at university set my career up. I have worked with young people of all backgrounds, in multiple states and territories and in public and private schools. I fell blessed to have shared time with an amazing bunch of students and some incredibly heart-centred teachers. But what I have found is my ultimate purpose in life is to help people to see their own light, their own brilliance and to be able to nurture and encourage that. Am I a teacher? Yes, I am, but no longer in this system that makes me feel that my individuality is not valued.
©Alyssa Curtayne 2016
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