My time is limited because of the demands of school and family, so pardon me please, if it is a little disjointed, but I have what I think is an important idea to advance advocacy for public education. Since this is my first blog post - a little about me. I am 54 years old and nearing the end of my teaching career. I teach Japanese, Social Studies and BC First Nations 12 now, but have taught a few other things over the years. I teach at a small high school on Vancouver Island with a student population of 650. I feel I am finally becoming a good teacher but am disappointed it took me so long.
I have come to understand what it means to truly care for my students. I listen well now not just with my ears but with my heart too. When I say 'listening with my heart', it sounds like a cliche. But I do mean it and can actually feel a pressure in the centre of my chest when I am truly engaged with the students. Perhaps that touchy feely stuff is better left for another post.
We in British Columbia have an education system that for all the use of buzz words such as "inclusiveness" and listening to "stake holders" really is a system that concentrates real power at the top for the benefit of a corporatist ideology. The proof is a system that mandates little time for teachers to prepare for classes that are too big. A typical high school class has 30 or more students. Most BC high schools run on the semester system that means for half the year teachers are teaching four, 80 minute classes a day with a five minute break between classes and no preparation time in the school day. Our educational leaders in Victoria say we are to "personalize" education for each of the more than 120 students we see each day. The students and parents are told they should expect to get that "personalized" education experience. If we fail to deliver, then naturally as front line workers we teachers shoulder the blame.
Here is what our education system needs to look like to truly deliver a meaningful personalized education experience to the children of BC:
- All classes would have a maximum of 20 students enrolled
- All teachers would have preparation time in every school day
- A tutorial block (something private schools in BC offer) would be provided to give the needed extra help to students.
- Master teachers would be recognized and would work with teachers on a regular basis to improve practice.
We don't have those simple common sense conditions because they would not create a learning environment that simply produces consumers of corporate goods and minds easily directed to support corporate goals.
Does that mean this kind of learning environment is not achievable? Not at all. We simply have to work at achieving them daily in our own schools. The first step to do that is to identify education issues that need dialogue and debate to fully understand. The current push for online learning is one such issue. We have natural networks as educators that include our school and district administration. It is perfectly normal and healthy to have these conversations. The great thing about an email conversation is you can reflect on what is said and go back and check what has been said. The use of this method puts pressure on our administration staff to defend the programs they are implementing in a professional discussion with their teachers. If they can do so effectively, it simply enhances their position as education leaders and creates an environment where those policies can be more effectively implemented. If they can't defend these policies, or worse do not respond to the professional enquiry, the policy is discredited and their implied authority as an educational leader is damaged.
This course of action is not something that is open to direct sanction or punishment. I have tried it at my school to some effect. (Some colleagues and I maintained a discussion on online education for a week.) I see this professional enquiry as a truly democratic, transparent and professional tool if used consistently and regularly. It acknowledges the power of transparent, honest and sincere professional communication.
Once we have established a culture in our schools of ongoing professional transparency other issues such as common sense learning conditions can be brought forward. When they are part of an ongoing discussion they become actionable in ways that may not yet be apparent. It is worth a try.