Monday, 30 July 2018

Why Most Schools Fail

The Essential Core

The government education system in New Zealand has become a behemoth which will never change.  That, we believe, is the most realistic assessment of the vast edu-bureaucracy and the educrats who run it. 

Debates over the "system" inevitably turn into discussions about quality teachers.  Most people instinctively realise that any and every education system will fall over if teachers are second grade or inadequate to the task. 

Allan Peachey, former principal of Rangitoto College was pretty clear on this.  Finding and securing the best available teachers was a core part of a principal's duties and responsibilities.  He describes what he looked for when recruiting teachers to work at Rangitoto College.

Every applicant that I interview for an English-teaching position has to be able to talk to me about the novels, plays and poems that have made the greatest impression on them.  They have to be able to talk about Shakespeare's plays and satisfy me that they have a passion for literature.  And they have to be able to tell me how they will encourage boys and girls to read.  The best English teachers read a lot; they also share their reading and their books with their colleagues and their students.  The advice that I give to any student who wants to be a teacher of English is that they go away and get a decent university degree in English literature.  Too many teacher trainees wanting to teach English no longer have sufficient depth in their study of the subject. [Allan Peachey, What's Up With Our Schools: A New Zealand Principal Speaks Out (Auckland: Random House, 2005), p.38.] 

So, first up, love of subject is essential if one is to be a successful teacher.  But, further, Peachey identifies four things he looked for in a teacher.  The first of these was academic rigour in their subject(s).  He writes:
Top teachers make students learn.  They do that through their own love of what they are teaching as well as their understanding of their subject's structure. . . . Teachers need to be stimulated by what they have learned at university and they need to have a very strong desire to enhance and expand that knowledge.  They must constantly learn more about what they are teaching, because if they do not actively learn, neither will their students.  Teaching is an intellectual activity, not a mechanical exercise; it requires creativity and mastery of knowledge on the part of the teacher.  [Ibid., p. 48f.]
Secondly, it is essential that a teacher has an ability to communicate effectively with students in matters relevant to the subject being taught. 
Teachers must take responsibility not only for their teaching, but also for their students' learning: if, in their classrooms, there is no evidence of learning, then there is no evidence of teaching.  We have all heard teachers say, "I've taught it, but the kids didn't learn it."  Nonsense: if the kids didn't learn it, it wasn't taught.  Teachers cannot expect students to adjust to their teaching; they must adjust their teaching to their students' learning.

What we need is teachers who can explain a concept in a range of contexts and language forms until learning finally occurs.  If you cannot do this, you cannot teach.  Students who cannot understand their teacher soon lose interest and get frustrated because they feel helpless and have nowhere to go.  This leads to bad behaviour and everything that follows from that.  [Ibid., p. 49f.]
 The third necessary requirement is various personal qualities, chief among them being selflessness and wanting to serve others.  The fourth criteria is a willingness to participate in the wider life of the school, strengthening its communal character.

Most schools these days are staffed with teachers who are not marked out by these four qualities.  Herein lies the Achilles Heel of our government education system. 

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