It was originally posted in February 2016 and shared over 36, 000 times. Here I am more than six months later and while I may only be one voice out of 36, 000, I am a voice. This post is always coming up in my feeds online and I wanted to share my thoughts.
This is an open letter to Kathy and to educators everywhere.
Congratulations on a 30-year career in education. What an amazing achievement. I am sure that there are hundreds of children you have touched and who have been positively impacted on from you being their teacher. What a special job we have to be able to do just that.
I don’t write this to cause a fuss or to create arguments, I agree with a lot that was in your letter, but definitely not all…so when I read posts splashed through the media and posted in my social media feeds, written on “my behalf”, I am compelled to speak up. I do write this post to hopefully give you and those who have read your letter another perspective.
I am an educator, and while my 7 years and 6 months might not remotely compare to your thirty…I have packed a lot into those 7 years. And, I have a lot to say.
I need to start with your comment about consolidating basics and that “every teacher will tell you that the early years should be about the 3 R’s”.
I’ve never much liked that saying anyway…I think still using it makes a mockery of our profession, especially since we all know that writing and arithmetic don’t actually start with the letter r. That aside, I think it is contradictory when you say that Prep teachers are no longer allowed to run play based programs because they are too busy “teaching children sight words and how to read and write” and then follow up with the importance of teaching the 3Rs in the early years.
My school has a wonderfully rich discovery, play-based program in the early years, built on students learning through social play, their own curiosities, and designing, making and building. The teachers’ guide and question when needed, provide the foundation for oral language development and focus on developing students to be curious thinkers, questioners, and researchers…all in a child’s first year of school. Early literacy development and reading and writing skills are a natural progression from this.
Yes, they also learn about history and geography…even science and technology. This is built through their own questions, wonderings and discoveries, and our belief in children learning through inquiry.
They do not learn about these areas in ‘subjects’.
They do not sit at their tables all day and learn sight words or complete maths worksheets.
They do not solely focus on learning the 3Rs.
They do however become excited and curious about the world.
Our world has changed. By focussing on the ‘3Rs’ alone, we’re robbing children of a full, well-rounded education that will allow them to be active participants in the rapidly changing world that we are living in.
I also disagree that we have an ‘over crowded’ curriculum. You see, as a believer in learning through inquiry, I have come realise that not segregating the curriculum into ‘subjects’ allows for so many more intuitive pathways. I do believe that discipline-based learning still has a place, but I believe it is how schools and educators go about it that matters. When I first started teaching, I did what I was told, had ‘subjects’…but slowly and surely, the more I learned, the more I reflected on how my students were learning…not what they were learning, things changed. I realised how my change in approach to teaching and learning actually covered more of the curriculum than I could have ever tried to plan for. For me ‘curriculum’ has become something that we check against, not something that we plan to ‘cover’.
You go on to discuss an over crowded classroom and being “told” that we must differentiate in order to cater for individual students. For me, that is not something I am told. It is something I believe in. Isn’t this exactly what education should be? I wholeheartedly agree that many teachers feel guilt when faced with the pressures of so many different needs in a classroom, we lay awake at night wondering if we’ve done enough. I don’t think that is just a sign of system pressures alone, I think it is a sign of a human being that cares deeply about the development of a child in their care.
You say we need to “claim back” our profession but we are powerless. I do not think we are powerless. We are the ones who can make the biggest difference. We have a voice. You used yours. I only wish that instead of focussing on all the negative that you focussed on the good too, even just some of it. The innovative. The contemporary. Showed the media, parents and the wider community how amazing being an educator can be, how thrilling it is when you witness children learning and have been an integral part of that journey. If we want to change our profession we need to have that voice. And there is far more good in our education system than bad. Yet all everyone seems to talk about is the bad.
You say that you could no longer watch as the joy was “sucked” out of learning. There is one person who could have changed that. You.
I think you were so brave to admit that you can no longer be a teacher because it requires you to go against your philosophy- although, from your post, I’m not too clear on what that philosophy is. It takes huge amounts of courage to not only admit that to yourself but to do so in such a public way. Sometimes I get so frustrated when I meet and work with educators who have a philosophy that differs to mine. It is hard. But I often remind myself that just because it is my belief and my philosophy, does not mean it is right for everyone or right in all circumstances.
You see, I don’t believe that ‘loving’ children has ever been enough for one to become an educator. Neither do I think ‘passion’ is the answer. It is so much more than that. In fact, I’m not even sure I have the words to explain what education means to me. Loving children is not enough.
I believe that educators need to love to learn themselves. If they are not learners first, can they really give what is needed to teach?
I believe that educators should be enthralled by not only the art of teaching but the science. The theory. The method. The history. The academic. Without both, how could they truly reflect on what it really means to educate?
I believe that educators need to know that their work will be hard. That yes, there are many things in our system that need improving but like many other jobs, it is hard. What I also want them to know, as they ponder the last point, is that is it is so indescribably and unbelievably worth it.
I am not denying that there are problems with our education system. There are many, so many. And I am not denying that the things you mentioned do not happen in schools. But I will deny that this is the case in all schools. And, I will deny that your point of view is not the view held by all educators. The media constantly reports on the negative points in education and what teachers and the system should do and your post has played right into their hands.
There are schools and educators out there that are pushing the boundaries of the traditional system, that are asking questions, that ARE making change. Let’s share and celebrate those stories. The more we can do of that, the more others will notice, perceptions will change. If you disagree with the last sentence, then I am so happy you have chosen a different career pathway. The minute I become cynical or pessimistic about the work I do is the minute I will know it is time to move on. I hope it never happens.
If we as educators do not believe that change will occur and are not prepared to put in the work to make that change happen, then why should we expect others to do it for us? Shouldn’t we come together rather than stand apart?
We can be the change.
I wish you well in where ever your next career journey takes you.