Yesterday, whilst my year nine Creative Writing class were in the midst of contributing to their blogs, a year nine boy stopped and asked me the question: What are you passionate about?
I opened the question up to the class and asked them what they were passionate about for a few minutes, contemplating some answers: my family, my friends, my dog, reading, football, being happy; and laughed with students on other answers:
- ‘Women’ chimed in one year nine boy, barely over the age of fourteen. I reminded him that the only ‘women’ he knew was his mother and probably me. He blushed then and rephrased it, ‘chicks’. Fair enough.
- ‘This class’ – somebody suggested sarcastically. A few students reassured me that this was, in fact, their favourite class. I thought it was nice that they wanted me to know that.
Eventually the question turned back on me, what was I passionate about? I asked them if they thought they knew. They suggested writing, talking, performing and reading.
They got it wrong. I told them that although it sounded corny, they were what I was passionate about. I explained that listening to them and discussing various issues with them really was what I felt the most passionate about in my life.
If I could spend my six hours a day, five weekdays a week, having open discussions with students about their points of view, current events and issues, and their health and emotional wellbeing, I’d be a very satisfied worker.
Unfortunately, I’ve found over the last five years of being in the teaching game, that teaching has a lot to do with red tape and impossibly high expectations from teachers AND students and very little to do with open communication. Let me explain.
There are amazing teachers out there. I’m proud to say I’m friends with several of them. They are passionate, dedicated, knowledgeable, personable and kind. They know their students, they know their subject area and they know their job. Unfortunately, with every new school year comes a new scheme. A new curriculum. A new way to mark work. A new way to write reports. A new way of doing things. Rarely are we given the opportunity to fully develop a unit of work before it is changed or ‘tweaked’ to fit a new expectation or standard of the Department of Education or the school itself.
Each new year adds a new form to fill out, an added protocol to follow; an added comment to make on each piece of work. This all results in overworked teachers who have considerable pressure put on them from their administration for their students to meet unrealistic goals.
Due to the increase in workload, teachers are forced to cram more than ever into a lesson. This creates a whole set of new problems for students who may already be suffering from learning disabilities, behavioural issues, stress and other issues relating to their progress and emotional wellbeing.
Firstly, there is no time to teach them properly. We jump from one unit of work to another, barely skimming the surface but expected to get results of a deep understanding and analysis of the techniques they are supposed to be developing.
Secondly, because there is little time to teach each unit in full detail, students do not develop their knowledge and quickly forget what they’ve learnt. By the following year when they’re expected to have a basic grasp on a topic, they have to start from scratch, causing them to fall further behind students who excel in the same subject.
Thirdly, we are stressing the crap out of the poor little buggers. I’m not just talking about VCE’s. I’m talking about how we do this to our year 7’s. At any given moment in a term these students may be undertaking anywhere between 5-8 assessments.
Is it any wonder they don’t excel when they haven’t had the time to develop the knowledge required and then find they’re thrown into an assessment that will make its way onto their reports?
Take all of this and add in the fact that our job is to prepare them for the world not only academically but also socially and mentally. Where in the curriculum is the opportunity to freely communicate on topics they want to talk about? Where in the curriculum is the opportunity to talk to them ABOUT them?
I’m lucky. As an English teacher I make it a priority to spend a lot of time discussing the world with students and asking them what they think. There are occasional classes where we don’t write a word, but spend the forty-seven minutes talking freely about something we’ve read in the news or our opinion on something close to their hearts. There isn’t enough of this though. By the time these students graduate (IF they can manage the stress and work requirements of getting through six years of high school successfully) they might be able to analyse a novel and break down an article, but do they have any idea of what they think or what they want? Do they have any idea how to communicate their opinion openly and tolerantly? Have we nurtured this?
We need to simplify the curriculum. We need to focus on the basics of good communication skills in both the written and verbal format. We need to prepare our students not only academically but socially for a world where they can gain an understanding of the world and what is going on in it and develop their own personal opinions.
That, I explained to an increasingly bored group of year nine students, is what I’m passionate about.