I am tired. After thirty years of working in schools, I am weary of the ways in which our work gets battered around. I am saddened that teaching, the craft of guiding young people in their growth to adulthood is dismissed as trivia. And it comes from all sorts of places, including from within our midst.
Recently, I came across the following statement written by an ex-colleague “…as [a] teacher, the most important thing to focus on, generally speaking, is the teaching and learning provided to students. I’m still not entirely sure why teaching gets lumped in there, as student learning is probably sufficient.”
And it stung. It stung that one of ours should so casually label teaching and learning as a provision, as a commodity to be consumed. It stung that teaching is regarded as virtually worthless, as something to be ‘lumped in’, akin to the kid no other kid wants on their team but has to be chosen because parents said so. It stung that that work of teaching is regarded as expendable, worthless. It stung that the years of being mentored, of learning, of watching, of thinking, of talking and doing, and of working with young people is marked as irrelevant by one of my own.
And I ask myself, how can someone possibly think this way?
There are answers I can conjure up, of course, but this is not about that but, rather, about affirming the worth of those people which our society has entrusted with the welfare of our youth. This is about recognising what teachers do.
Last November, I received a Facebook message from Kristy, a woman whose name I didn’t recognise, who asked me whether I had worked at a particular school. I replied that I had and queried her intent. She wrote back, telling me that I had been her teacher back in grade ten, twenty-five years ago, and that she had been reflecting on past times with friends. They had been reminiscing about all that they learned and had forgotten, and all that they experienced and became part of who they were.
“It wasn’t what we learned,” she wrote me, “but the way we learned to be that mattered. Thank you.”
Teaching is about relationships, it is about the connections that we foster and build and about the determination to help young people become better humans. It is about recognising how brains work and develop and about finding and then reaching to the level of the child in order to help her or him learn the next step. It is about watching and thinking and learning. It is about caring for the development of whole people and of communities., local and global. It is about modelling what the world could.
Of course, we also need to be aware that it is more than this. We need to know that the increasing economic pressure on schools to demonstrate ‘a return on investment’ has increasingly directed focus onto quantifiable outcomes away from the domains of inspiration, socialisation and relation. And we have to be responsive to that. We need to be aware that teaching must also be about helping students learn information and skills,. And we know how to do this, we are trained to do this. Effective, genuine and meaningful learning does not happen in a vacuum. To learn well and to learn correctly needs guidance, it needs meaningful and timely feedback, it needs proficiency, it needs identifying accessible worlds, it needs thought, and it needs a knowledge of how people learn.
All these actions involve us as people, and as such, as Stavros Yiannouka says “Teaching and learning lie at the heart of what it means to be human”.