People who work in education funnily enough move in similar circles. Its as if, I would imagine like others in service industries (eg Police, Nursing etc), you find out that the person you have just met at a social function is a kindred spirit – they walk your walk everyday as you negotiate your way around the ‘system’. In fact, I can identify most, if not a high percentage, of my friends either are, or have been teachers at some point when we initially crossed paths. If not teachers, Education Advisers, or Psychologists. We automatically connect, as if we are a family of sorts.
Most recently, these connections have highlighted for me several common themes through our conversations. Firstly, the conversations usually start with the heavy workload, the stress, the late nights and the feeling that no matter how much we do, it is never quite enough. Then the conversation progresses to policy impositions and ultimately National Standards and how it is directly impacting on the ability to do the job we once were excited to do. For those of us who are parents, there comes a third component to the discussion. Given that my younger children are just starting out in the school system, the chat inevitably returns to the age old adage of how I view school for my own offspring. And this is where I have made some startling observations. My teacher friends are worried. They are genuinely concerned for the well-being of their own children within the education system. They work hard to try to select the most appropriate school for their child to attend – often having to drive past several other schools to ensure this happens. They liaise closely with the school staff in order to ensure the impact of such policies as National Standards, larger class sizes, clear reporting etc doesn’t filter down to mean their child has a negative experience of school. And more recently, the teacher/parents I have spoken to have all categorically stated that if they could they would choose to home-school their child. That they felt their child’s emotional and mental well-being was at risk in some schools because of the pressure schools are now under to conform to the government’s policies.
You know it must be bad if teachers, given half the chance, would choose to home-school their own kids. For teacher/parents who have children who find school somewhat challenging – albeit socially, emotionally or academically – the current policy direction will require the school to label them and make them fit in a box. These boxes are labelled ‘at’, ‘above’ or ‘below’. As a teacher/parent I am highly concerned that my children will be put into boxes that they just aren’t ready to be fitted for. My daughter will fit in far different, colorful, weirdly shaped box from that of my son, who might fit a more industrial, toughened and security-enhanced box. Each box is different, and I am loathe to see my children labelled at such a time when they are still forming their own self-identity. For children who find school a challenge, their ‘below’ box will follow them around and haunt them. It will come to define them, and despite all they do, (and all the work their teachers will do), they will struggle to get into another box that far more epitomizes their uniqueness, creativity, problem-solving ability, independence, responsibility and craziness.
So as a teacher/parent, I would raise my hand to have my children out of this system. And it would seem, so would many others I speak with. They see learning as experiencing, making meaning, doing and exploring – not always having to meet a benchmark to prove one’s ability to learn. Learning should be happening consistently in the life of a child – making meaning from experience. As such, children don’t need to be boxed in and limited to a range of criteria determined by someone that will not walk their path in life. The knowledge they seek will be relevant to their life experiences and as such cannot be measured. So, as a teacher/parent, I feel it is that bad. I do not want my children categorised and ranked, given a number or a grade. I want them having experiences, making connections and engaging in motivating learning. And it would appear, at this time thanks to current government policy, the New Zealand education system is struggling to offer this to our children.