Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Smarter - Not Charter! How to Run Our Schools.

Here we go again - everyone thinks they can do it better than we teachers! Let's let every community group or business run their own school; what do we know?

Fifth in the developed world according to the PISA study? Not quite good enough, says John Key Breakfast, Tuesday 6 December).

To start with, poverty and what's happening in some homes is obviously not the problem. Some children come to school without breakfast, without warm clothes, without the tools they need. They might see Dad hit Mum...or worse.

At my last school, the population had a large number of transient children as their parent (sic) kept moving to avoid the bills, or the boyfriend. These socio-economic factors obviously aren't seen as priority factors. They can't be affecting the students' attitude to learning and families' priorities.

Secondly, let's not worry about the quality of the teachers we train. We don't believe that our trainees should be the top of the pile, and we don't value this career option financially. Anyone can apply to teach and it's a good career for someone returning to work after having kids - even if they have never studied before. We won't worry about their literacy and numeracy levels, and if they aren't au fait with the Numeracy Project or E_learning, never mind.

Thirdly, there is no point throwing more money at making sure schools have all the resources they need. Who can afford one to one devices or small classes?

And finally - why concentrate on empowering our kids and nurturing their talents? We realised that some children would be succesful without the 3 Rs - Peter Leitch is an example of the "failed student" who did well in spite of his schooling. We realised that children could get by on other talents; look at many of our professional rugby players. We started to look at multiple intelligences and learning styles. We started to understand how important having self esteem was, how hard students would work if they could follow their passions. We held thinkers like Ken Robinson up with regard and praised their ideas.

But along came Anne Tolley and National Standards. Students would be failing if they did not reach "the standard". We had to concentrate on reading, writing and arithmetic.

And now let's try charter schools.

I have an elective group at school this week. Our intermediate school of 275 students end the school year with a week of "alternative education." I'm lucky enough to have a small class group of eight (usually I'm a "walking" DP.) These students have chosen to do photography. They each have access to a camera and a computer for editing. They aren't the top students in the school and in fact, two have been stood down on more than one occasion for their behaviour. One hasn't paid his activity fee - I'm doing that. And guess what? The conversation is thoughtful and on task. The students are mesmerised. I'm able to tailor the learning around their needs. We're all learning a lot - and not just about photography.

Small class sizes, enough equipment, tailored learning? Could do better.

Excuse me while I scream out loud with frustration!