Why do teachers grumble
I run workshops for pre-service teachers as part of the Understanding Teachers Work unit here at Murdoch University.
During one of many great conversations in our workshop yesterday, a student remarked:
“Teachers are always complaining about something. They talk about how wonderful teaching can be but then they spend hours going on about how terrible things really are.”
So, we are a profession of compulsory whingers, right? This was too good an opportunity not to scratch the surface of the statement.
Just this week, we were looking at the (lack of) systemic changes in education over the years. How things were, how they are and … how they are likely to be. As a stimulus to the conversation about the future, we used a useful and well publicised OECD study on six possible scenarios of Schooling for Tomorrow. Although a little dated (2004), the study offers some excellent food for thought.
In short (if you can’t be bothered going to the link), the report identifies six main scenarios that may (continue to) play out with regards to mainstream schooling.
1. Schools in ‘back to the future’
This scenario shows schools in powerful, bureaucratic, systems that are resistant to change. Schools continue mostly with ‘business as usual’, defined by isolated units – schools, classes, teachers – in top-down administrations. The system reacts little to the wider environment, and operates to its own conventions and regulations.
2. Schools as focused learning organisations
In this scenario, schools function as focal learning organisations, revitalised around a knowledge agenda in cultures of experimentation, diversity, and innovation. The system enjoys substantial investment, especially to benefit disadvantaged communities and maintain high teacher working conditions.
3. Schools as core social centres
In this scenario, the walls around schools come down but they remain strong, sharing responsibilities with other community bodies. Non-formal learning, collective tasks and intergenerational activities are strongly emphasised. High public support ensures quality environments, and teachers enjoy high esteem.
4. The extended market model
This scenario depicts a wide extension of market approaches in who provides education, how it is delivered, how choices are made, and resources distributed. Governments withdraw from running schools, pushed by dissatisfaction of “consumers.” This future might bring innovation and dynamism, and it might foster exclusion and inequality.
5. Learning networks replacing schools
This scenario imagines the disappearance of schools per se, replaced by learning networks operating within a highly developed “network society.” Networks based on diverse cultural, religious and community interests lead to a multitude of diverse formal, non-formal, and informal learning settings, with intensive use of ICTs.
6. Teacher exodus and crisis
This scenario depicts a meltdown of the school system. It results mainly from a major shortage of teachers triggered by retirement, unsatisfactory working conditions, more attractive job opportunities elsewhere.
Students then got to choose the one or max two scenarios which they think our broad schooling system in this country is at now and one or two scenarios they wish were in place in the future, especially as they head out in a couple of years as qualified teachers.
The picture above shows the voting results from the two groups (Monday & Tuesday):
The difference is striking. They mostly identified (and rightly so) we are at scenarios 1 (‘Back to the future’), 4 (Extended market model) and 6 (Exodus and crisis). What they wish for are largely 2 (Focused learning organisations), 3 (Core social centres) and some 5 (Learning networks replacing schools).
“And you want to become a teacher? Look at it! Oh you dummies … why?” I said, in jest.
I continued: “There lies the heart of some of the deepest teacher grumbles. They may be expressed in references to day-to-day and seemingly petty things but the disconnect between what most educators came into the game for and what happens so often is telling. What is more, brochures, websites, press releases, mission statements, policies and similar texts are full of rhetoric couched in terms of scenarios 2, 3 and even 5. Teachers recognise, connect with the aspirational voice in them but realise they mostly pay lip service to the ‘real world’ of scenarios 1, 4 and 6.”
Why am I telling this to future teachers? Am I not just about condemning our profession and discouraging them to continue their study, do something else other teaching?
Perhaps – yes. But I know I am also helping to send out resilient practitioners who are not going to crumble under the first demand that pierces their bubble of ideal education nor will they fall for the shiny promises of the ‘new’, much of it mostly recycled (<- love this post, more goodness there from The Pedagogista). They may better ‘read’, understand the staffroom whinge, grasp the beers celebrating the end of term or the ‘hump’ week, and resist the temptation to become a superhero but instead be ‘good enough’ for the kids and colleagues they work with.
Because let’s face it – no matter what the future of schooling will look like, it is those good enough educators that will make it work. But there remains something about the examined life worth living…