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Jun 22

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Could you be a teacher?

A ‘situations vacant’ sign is likely to dangle outside most Australian schools in the near future.  Over the next four years, more than a quarter of Australian teachers will have reached retirement age and over 10,000 teachers are likely to retire in the next decade.  Who is going to replace them?  The answer, of course, is anyone.  Teaching is easy … or is it?

The following is a personal reflection on the skills required of the contemporary teacher.

1.      Personable

Teachers must do more than grind through course content.  They must build relationships and enter the world of their students.  Humour and approachability will help, over-familiarity will not.  Some irascibility and even strictness is allowed in a teacher providing it is transparently clear to the student that they are still valued.  The cardinal rule for those wishing to be successful teachers is that they must enjoy teaching.  If teachers do not enjoy teaching, their students will not enjoy learning.

Unfortunately, there still exists the teacher who is the burnt-out cynic, who has given up hope and displays this to the students who are only too willing to fuel the emotional capitulation with further evidence of hopelessness. A great teacher is not necessarily the friendliest teacher or even the most popular teacher.  The great teacher is the one who inspires and disturbs until a new level of possibility is seen.

2.      Partner

It has been said that the teacher of tomorrow can no longer be the ‘sage on the stage’ but must be the ‘guide by the side’.  Yesterday, teachers poured knowledge down the thin-necked objects of their attention.  However, the last few years have seen a democratisation of learning where students are active partners with teachers in learning.  All this can be a bit humbling for a teacher, and even more so when Jones Minor has found a fantastic new website that is explaining things better than ‘Sir’, and Smith Major has demonstrated a superior knowledge of quarks, neutrinos and ‘God particles’.

Partnerships can be challenging.  Far better to be the autocrat.  No dialogue.  No distraction.  No worries.  But we can’t.  The teachers of tomorrow must not treat their students as passive recipients invited only to remember and repeat.  They must now be managed as collaborators in the plot to overthrow ignorance.

3.      Progressive

It is not necessary for every teacher to be a digital native at ease in a world dominated by integrated technologies, but they do need to be a digital immigrant who can venture into post millennial territory and survive within it.

In tomorrow’s school, modern technologies will be used everywhere with a presumption of their worth and convenience.  The whole school will be a workspace.  Benches in the playground will be littered with students using laptops, iPods, pocket PCs and mobile phones.  Learning will be encouraged everywhere.  Students will tumble out of classrooms and re-form in a dozen small groups to engage in tweets, blogs and Wikis.  Print stations will be found in strategic locations.  Stand-up work spaces with touch-screens will facilitate web-browsing for those ‘on the move’ and without a pocket device.  Flat plasma screens will provide synchronised school news, swipe cards will provide entry and attendance verification.

In classrooms, interactive white boards will magnify learning.  All key lessons will be digitally recorded for student recall.  Student work will be beamed onto screens for comment and marked using a virtual pencil.  Lessons will be augmented by video-conferences with specialist teachers off shore and by model lessons in clouds.  Are you up for this?

4.      Performer

Be warned, the educational world has gone mad about performance.  Accountability measures are everywhere.  Debates are being held about performance-related pay and credentialing is rife.  Stir in academic league tables, NAPLAN tests and ‘My School’ websites and ‘Big Brother’ is definitely with you in the contemporary classroom.

5.      Parent

They shouldn’t be, but they are.  The teacher of tomorrow will be required to be a parent.  Many parents are wonderful and fulfil their role with such completeness that a teacher need only teach the blessings of quadratic equations and the curses of the split infinitive.  However, some parents are less wonderful and this sometimes requires teachers to do the caring, the mentoring and even the loving.

This problem is exacerbated by the growing frequency of marriage collapse, single parenting, teenage parenting and aberrant parenting.  At a time when meaningful dialogue between fathers and their offspring is being measured in seconds a day, it is often left to the teacher to be the mentor.  Increasingly, teachers are having to deal with issues such as sex education, hygiene and morality.

There are also some who over-parent, who hover above their progeny in a way that guarantees they never grow up.  There are other parents who are all at sea – who are absent from their children’s lives except for brief periods of shore leave.  Having to cope with both is the teacher – building resilience in the over-parented and security in the under-parented.

6.      Physician

A teacher must be a healer.  A teacher must be able to counter the de-sensitising to violence, the premature sexualising, and the ambiguous morality that is the cyber world in which most children live.  They must also assist the socially maladjusted in a way that prevents the school from becoming a lucrative legal target.

Despite being squeezed between rising expectations and declining resources, the teacher of tomorrow will be required to fulfil parental dreams and to protect children’s rights.  They will be expected to be the polymath – the master of many skills.  They will be asked to be prophet, priest and parent.  Let’s hope that there are 10,000 brave souls that are prepared to step up to this challenge.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.timhawkes.com/could-you-be-a-teacher/

1 comment

  1. Claudine Neal

    Dear Tim;

    Thank you for writing this article as this needs to be articulated to the profession. I am part of the 2.5% of OTEN (TAFE NSW) job losses; of which General Education (which includes my HSC subject) will be “hit hard”. It seems the committed teachers who are prepared to take on the new teaching skill set are the ones losing their jobs because poor middle management has made decisions based on historical factors (who has been teaching at TAFE for the longest) instead of what have individual teachers brought to their faculty to improve delivery of their subject or to make meaningful relationships with their students.

    This article confirms that the values I hold as a teacher in 2012 are the ones my profession needs; but doesn’t necessarily respect.

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