Sunday, May 11, 2008

the process of education

I read a comment yesterday on this that has made me think a great deal. I wonder if Cramerj is the same person as anonymous who left a comment on my post about students and criticism?

It is interesting to note that EVERYONE has an opinion about teaching. In modern Western society everyone has been educated. We have all been through the process of education for a minimum of 10 years, if you left in Year 9, or up to 13 years, if you went straight through to the end of Year 12.

I want to go through what I see as being the process of education (teacher, parent and child) as this will then help me explain why some people become disgruntled with the system as it exists at the moment. Remember that this is the way that I see the whole process of education - to all my teacher colleagues I hope I don't offend anyone.

Primary School.
Generally this is the most positive experience in the education process. Parents come in excited about the journey their child is about to embark on. Parents are involved in everything - reading, excursions, art etc.

Prep, Grade 1 and Grade 2 are where you see the most involvement from parents. The eldest child in the family has the excitement of finding their way, with their parents, through the maze that is education.

Grade 3 and 4 things get a little tougher as the style of work changes and thoughts start to move towards secondary education. Written assignments become quite big and the maths starts to get a little harder. Children also start to get very socially focused - the parents are important but friends are much more important. (For some this has started earlier and for others it will not start until much, much later). Parents seem to have a lesser role but they are still there listening to reading, helping with excursions and working through the maths problems etc. The kids start to find the work a little tougher at this stage but they will keep pushing through the process and the teachers are SOOOOO supportive. They know the kids exceptionally well and can see the strengths and weaknesses of the kids holistically.

Grade 5 and 6 suddenly the kids are BIG and the expectations are quite high. These are the leaders in primary schools. If kids have been struggling with any concepts they might start to fall behind a little and their behaviour may change as well. If they have a great teacher they will be able to work at a high level in some areas and work hard to improve the other levels. Grade 6 kids often feel like they are TOO big for the primary school and often are impatient to move to the secondary setting. The teachers are working on ensuring that a strong understanding of the whole curriculum is undertaken so that the transition to secondary school is as smooth as possible.

[Please understand that I am a secondary school teacher and my perceptions of primary schools is based on what I see when I go on excursions to a primary school and discussions I have heard friends, who are parents and teachers, have.]

Parental involvement becomes higher again, not so much from the helping with work itself, but from the decisions that are made regarding the direction for further education. Parents go on tours of the local high/secondary schools with their children and they 'discuss' what they see. (as a teacher on display during these tours it is fascinating observing what interests the child compared to the parents)

Secondary school
Year 7 - first half of the year, the kids are so cute. They are finding their way. If it is a uniformed place the uniforms are WAY too big. If they are the eldest in the family they are 'lost' for a fair while. They have so many teachers (up to 13 in some schools) compared to primary school where they had the one and a few specialists. Now the teachers are all specialists.

Somewhere during this first year the kids lose their cuteness. Hormones kick in and their behaviour changes as a result. If the kids are able to talk to their parents about work, this will continue for a while, but the discussion about school, work and friends will change. From what I have noticed, kids don't always say what is really going on. They may interpret the situation so differently from the reality and parents may not ever get the truth of what is happening until it is very late in the story.

Kids sometimes like to protect themselves or even their parents from the truth. I have asked a child if they have discussed an issue with their parent - often the answer is no as they don't want to bother their mum/dad as they have a lot on already.

By the time Year 7 finishes and the kids have moved through Year 8 there has been a huge change in their approach to education. Decisions will have been made ("I hate that subject" "I can't do that." etc) and behaviours will emerge. If the teacher is good they will be able to ride these changes in the kids with ease. Hormones kick in big time and the kids behave in some of the most intriguing ways. Girls adorn make-up (has been happening for decades) and boys will now spend time on clothes selection and hair manipulation (a much more recent occurrence).

It is during this time that kids want to be treated differently but don't want to be separated from the pack. Pack mentality can set in and in some situations can be very detrimental. Bullying really starts to rise at this time and continues into year 9 and, in the worst situations I have seen, through to the beginning of year 10. Kids want to achieve but don't want to be obvious in their intelligence - unless they are part of 'nerdy' group or a group that values intelligence.

Most groups are more focused on social issues - fashion, socialising, parties, drinking etc. All kids just want to fit in. This can pervade the kids whole life - home life may become difficult as they want to 'buck' the system there; school work may suffer as the kid spend less time completing the work. If this happens (kids don't complete the work) they fall behind but the curriculum continues to plow on.

Half way through year 9 and most of year 10 I consider to be the sorting years. Kids work out what they want to do. It can be an interesting 18 months.

Year 11 they have grown up a lot and they are starting to settle down and parents seem to enjoy the company of their kids again.

Year 12 is THE stressful year as everyone thinks that this is the year that will make or break them. Parents are suddenly invited to be part of the kids lives again (they have always been there but as observers) but as it has been a while since they were actively involved, they have lost their touch and become stressed along with the kids.

If there is a time in education when we 'lose' kids it will be during Year 9 but I think it might have shown itself a lot earlier.

Things have changed a great deal since I was at school. When I was at school everyone was focused on the early years (prep to grade 3 maybe grade 4). Research was on the impact of a good start and the success a child has. Final years were important but everyone was looking at the early years.

As I finished high school and went to university 'girls education' became the flavour of research. People were looking at how girls learn, especially in maths and science.

I ended university and began my career and we started to look at how boys were coping in education.

10 years into my career the 'middle years' became the focus. We looked at the years from about grade 5 to the end of year 9 and why we lose kids. Programs have changed dramatically. There is more focus on social acceptance within a school setting compared to pushing the kids into academia. Kids are encouraged to research what they are interested in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The message that schools have been given from the research is to engage kids during the middle years. Many teachers are still arguing on the relevance of this......

I remember at school, in year 7, being criticised by a teacher for not knowing something. I didn't get the concept at all. After that criticism I stopped volunteering information. I am talking someone, the teacher, asking me if I was stupid. The impact of that was huge. It still hasn't left me.

So this is where I am going with all of this.......

Did the system fail someone like Cramerj? Is he/she angry that they were discouraged in the education system?

What I want to point out to someone like Cramerj and anonymous who doesn't own up to their thoughts, is that the system has changed. We treat kids like humans. We try to make a difference in their lives - sometimes it works, sometimes not. The fact that the kids in Frogdancer's class trust her enough to tell her about their lives means that the current system is working for them. I think it also means that she is treating her kids like humans - even when they behave like animals!

We are often trusted with the most sensitive information of kids as they are trying to work it out themselves. I feel privileged to hear that information. There are times when I don't know what to say or I have to get the assistance of someone else to help the kid work it out. There are other times when I want to throttle a child because of their actions but I know that they are trying to work something out as well. I have to remember that I am an adult and they are a child and that I have been given the responsibility of showing the child how to behave in our society.

I love my job. It is hard but it is rewarding. No one can 'get' what a teacher does unless they do it themselves. We often don't have any tangible results to show people but that is what society now wants. How hard is it to show a child that has changed to being contented because they have had the chance to work through some issue?

These are just my thoughts - and if you are still here reading - thank you for letting me share them with you.


Frogdancer said...

Excellent post. I can testify to the enjoying of the year 11 child's company.We were over at my parents for afternoon tea for Mother's Day and they commented to me on how much J has grown up and how pleasant he is to be around. It was nice to hear.

Laura Jane said...

Hear hear.

As a parent who has now seen two offspring through the whole education system, I have a similar perspective on education.

I also have a huge respect for the role of teachers in our children's lives. I always found that when a parent reached out to a teacher for guidance and consistency for dealing with a particular issue in a kid, then the teachers usually responded very well and supported the parental request to 'catch a kid being good' or to bolster the positive. I wish your pay-rise could be doubled!

Thanks for your great work, and your analysis of this disturbing comment on Frogdancer's site.

River said...

Great post. Interesting how through the years different age groups of kids have been focused on to see where and why they are being lost. I remember never being discouraged from learning at school, my discouragement came from home. The best teacher I ever had was my grade 7 primary teacher. she really spent time getting to know us. Near the end of the year she would give us little talks reminding us that although we were currently the big fish in the primary school pond, next year we would all be shrimp in the high school lake. We would occasionally be sent to the lower grades to help with the littlest kids to give us a reminder of the insecurities of being the youngest in the crowd. I have to say it was a big help in getting us to understand just how big the adjustment would be.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I am an educator as well and what you described was exact to a tee. Our roles as educators have changed from what it used to be. We are now counsellors, confidants, and mentors. Students have opinions of their own and they too need to be heard and appreciated. Students are receptive to teachers that are honest.

Anonymous said...

I thought your blog was extremely well written and very accurate. I can only really speak from a Junior School perspective but a lot of it was spot on. I would like to have read what this person wrote on both blogs but at this stage I can 't get access. Hopefully he/she will read what you have written and reflect.


baby~amore' said...

You are spot on.
Great thoughts I wish my son had teachers like you and Frogdancer.
I wish I had had teachers like you both.
I did have a few teachers who connected with us but the majority were far too jaded and my school was in a very poor socioeconomic area. I appreciate them more now for they had a hell of a time with my peers.

Joh said...

Good post Widget, as a parent and a teacher I can say you have summed it up pretty well.
I think school has changed a lot and like parenting, teaching is about doing the best we can with a great variety of challenges. I love it.
Sometimes I have time to catch up my feedreader - sorry this comment is ages after you wrote the post!