Bankers are filthy rich, investors are intelligent or lucky and nurses dedicate their lives to save others'. Receptionists please their clients like no other and police officers serve and protect. But there's one job that plays a massive role in the survival of the entire human race and planet earth as we know it. That's right people, I speak of those standing before us for more than forty percent of our childhood lives, teachers.
After travelling to Tasmania recently, it dawned on me, we teachers are a very special breed; heroic, kind and often whacky. So, what makes these senseless, kooky and sometimes authoritative beings so important?
Let's find out.
Because it is so much easier to change teaching policy, education practice and well, the teachers themselves, than that of changing the personal lives of students; families, individual characteristics and of course the behaviours and social norms in the community, teaching ranks very highly on what contributes most to a child's academia, career prospects, socio-emotional development and potential into adulthood. But before we go blaming the teaching for that incident that occurred and classifying it ‘poor teaching', let us fact-check some analysis of just why good teachers have such a positive influence on our children.
The best ‘test and reveal' sample of evidence for this is a change in a child's environment compared to that of the teacher. Although schools are vast in their range of difference from the next, a competent teacher will impact student achievement and well-being seamlessly. This will happen regardless of a school's status, community demographic or systemic set-up. Comparatively, students will have a more difficult time adapting to poor teaching practice and the environment they create, detrimentally impacting well-being and strangle clutching academic progression. The perfect example of this is the passage from Primary School to High School. A poor Year 6 teacher will offer an open mind and fresh start for students, ready to embark on a new journey with new teachers in Year 7. Quality teachers in a high school will lap up the students who need that extra attention, whereas the poor teachers will filter any positivity the students' mindset has left and squeeze the first of the anxiety-laden trail that begins when children enter adolescence. Alternatively, the opposite can occur too. Good teachers may pave such a strong path into adolescence, the sky seems the limit for each individual. Then the unthinkable; all this is quelled as the students enter a world of High School, often riddled with poor teachers. This seems dramatic but is the harsh reality of classroom and school transition, hence shining the clear spotlight on the message that, contrary to many leaders and their warped beliefs, good teachers are quite clearly irreplaceable.
Unlike in society, teachers are best identified by their care, nurturance and performance within the classroom, not for their colour, creed or experience. Also unlike in society, schools can operate by a different hierarchy; where those who care most get acknowledged most and those who create belonging, not belittling, get ahead. Think about it, a school based on community, where students are genuinely cared for are far more sought after than those which are purely based upon rigour and regurgitation to achieve nothing more than data. In a recent investigation by the Department of Education in Western Australia, surveying and analysing the pastoral care of over 140 teachers and their school's community stakeholders (principals, parents, administrators and, of course, students), the best schools and thus most effective teachers, regardless of the school's demographic and social climate, prioritised relationships and strong vision in treating the student as person, taking interest in the child and their interests. This played a major role in the overall academic and social development. The results also reflected the efficiency of the whole school experience for students and their families. The report concluded, "if they were cared for effectively, the results of those in question; academically and the general appreciation and view of the school would trend upward. If there was no real consistency with a priority on care, the view and results fell dramatically."
Good teachers are like melodies you can't get out of your head. Many of us, even as adults can recall that ‘one incredible' teacher; the one who made our time in that one year, inspiring! Like the whole school experience was so worthwhile, just for that twelve months. But how many people can say that one teacher made all the difference because "she planned diligently", or, "he controlled well and worked with great management", or, "that teacher knows everything about everything"? Sure, this all helps somewhat, but universities are not places you learn the real teaching, these skills are assets in all professions. Teaching needs that little point of difference. Clearly, the best teachers are passionate and enthusiastic and approachable and do things slightly different. When the time with this teacher is over, you go home and talk to your parents about the amazing fun you had or the learning activity that felt nothing like ‘normal learning'. They didn't know everything but they didn't seem to mind. And when you outsmarted them in inquiry, it was celebrated and shared across all the class. It was special, an experience like no other. It was different. A perfect segue into the next point, great teachers are different.
When tooting the horn of individuality, it is somewhat deflating when the person preaching is just another bland version of someone else. What a position to be in as teacher; bringing your personality out so that others can see you as human, not just the brick in the wall the system often confines us to be. Without a doubt, in a world of incessant conformity, those who possess even the smallest of difference, make the biggest of differences. We want a world of independent, responsible and critical creators, with a sense of service, generosity and pride in being, right? So, only being great in role modelling will bring about the most positive outcomes, conducive to success in the aforementioned. Able and inspiring individuals come from able and inspiring guidance.
As teachers, we have such a wonderful opportunity to spread the goodness of being kind, learned and humble; selfless, inquisitive and just being present. To all teachers out there, who think that you've had enough; I empathise but urge to persevere. Never again will you be in the same space as those you share today's classroom with. Think about it; you could be standing before, sharing incredible experiences with the next Prime Minister, future Hollywood heroes, tradies and politicians; the next Master Chef and your very next nurse. Heck, you may even have yourself an able age carer for when you're too frail to treat yourself the way you deserve. Where in the world will you ever have the pleasure, the honour to be present with amazing individuals like these ever again? They care about your presence. Your smile can make all the difference in one being's day. Smile more, love your students, love your job, love the good and the bad, and then smile some more, for you are a teacher.
By gosh we have an important job. Do it well!