Education: the heart of it

These are tricky times in education. Educators are faced with funding arguments and uncertainty, accreditation systems lacking coordination, upheaval in the government sector and confusion about employment prospects for new graduates. A career as an educator is one often met with ridicule from the media, lack of respect from the community and a barrage of blame statements from society. Despite all that, beyond the policy arguments, shifting priorities and increasing scrutiny there is absolutely no other job I would rather do. None. Not a single one.

I say this as a fairly experienced teacher, having taught for 12 years now, half in London and half in Sydney, in a range of schools and in a range of roles. This week, it struck home to me just how much I care about my job. It was the first day of the school holidays, where was I? At school, not alone, but with my colleagues, preparing for next term’s learning. There we were, sitting at the computers every so often saying to each other, “I’m really excited about this.”, or “I can’t wait to do this activity.”, or “What do you think about trying this?”. No one made us go into work, we care about what we do and believe in the potential of education, it makes it worth it.

Change can be challenging. It can be confronting. It can mean the end of things you like, or understand, or feel comfortable using. For me change is what I love about education. Change is at the heart of what we do and what we seek to do. Education is change: change in understanding, perceptions, ideas and lives. I can’t remember a term (or a week, or a lesson) where I haven’t changed what I intended to do. I’ve changed my lesson structure or activity in response to student interest or needs. I’ve changed my strategies for classroom management. I’ve changed the way my desks are organised, the technology I use, the questions I ask, the groups I organise for students, the texts I read, the materials I provide and so much more. Sometimes these changes work well, sometimes they don’t, but regardless of that, learning has happened, I’ve learnt, the students have learnt and my colleagues have learnt.

At the moment I’m learning about Project Based Learning. I’m thinking about what student engagement looks like and how I can maximise that. I’m reading, I’m watching videos, I’m asking questions, I’m talking to people and I’m trying things out. I’m excited. How many other careers give you this freedom? The freedom to take charge of your practice, to try new things and to change. This is what excites me about education, this freedom and the potential it holds. The potential for change, change in me, in students and my school community. What a privilege.

A quote from a book I’m reading at the moment struck a chord with me today. Agnes is a librarian in Zambia. The author asked her how she copes with all the difficulties she faces and asks “…isn’t that a challenge for you?”. Agnes’s response was “Yes, it can be challenging. But when you love something, when you love something, you do it with all your heart, all of your passion, and all of your energy.” (Wood J, 2012, Room To Read, p47).

While the challenges I face may be different to those Agnes encounters, her belief in the power of education resonates. I know of no other way to be an educator other than wholeheartedly, passionately and with love. Why would I want to do anything else?

What do you say when people ask why you are an educator? What’s at the heart of it for you?

Spreading the word

Seeing how quickly @EduTweetOz has grown got me thinking. Yes, building a community of educators is great but what we really need to do is let the rest of our community in on what educators are doing. I think one of the struggles educators face is respect, not from students but from the community. We posted a picture from one of the @EduTweetOz community members to our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. It was a cute little graphic showing all the things that teachers do outside the face-to-face teaching hours. I was amazed by how many people responded negatively to it. Bringing up the time-honoured ‘but you get so many holidays’ or ‘everyone works hard’ and generally completely missing the point. We weren’t having a go, or suggesting that teachers work harder than anyone else, merely sharing the work we do that goes unseen, the depth of our profession, the extent of the job. Because everyone’s experienced education they think they know what being an educator is about, teaching is so much more than the classroom, the lecture theatre, the face-to-face contact.

When the government talks about raising teacher entry requirements or linking pay to performance in order to attract ‘high calibre’ students into teaching we need to start a conversation about how education as a profession is perceived. It’s not a job you go into (or you should go into) for the holidays or for the short hours, or a job you leave behind when you walk out the school gates. It’s a job that takes passion and commitment and drive. A job that leaves you lying awake at night worrying about the student who didn’t have enough lunch or a clean uniform, or who made a worrying comment to his friend walking to class or the university student who’s started missing classes or how you’re going to get students engaged in writing or chemistry the next day. It’s a job that is about transforming people’s lives.

Here’s my question, while this community is already amazing for educators, is our next step to share this with the non-education professionals? Maybe by raising our profile, by letting people in on the work that we do outside face-to-face teaching, the conversations we engage in to improve ourselves, the drive we have to improve our student’s chances in life, maybe this will help people recognise, value and respect this work.

What if the conversation wasn’t about how to attract the brightest and the best to education? What if the conversations we as educators already have meant people, people with a passion for education, were beating down the doors of schools and universities to get a chance to be part of this incredible profession?

What if we could harness social media, our existing networks and any other means possible to spread the word about educators? This isn’t an issue that separates us into our fields or sectors, this is one that unites us, from long day care educators through to university educators and those of us working outside traditional classroom structures. We need to let the community in on our core business. Everyone’s involved in education, let’s show them what that means.

 

What do you do to share your passion for education?