So if we are dissatisfied with the secondary school system in Victoria, the VCE, and we are teachers of sorts in a government school, are we trapped in the push through the congested pipe to the endpoint, the VCE, especially at my school, which is even more focused as a 9-12 school, and with a reputation of ‘getting’ the students the highest possible ATARs – which are the holy grail because (and now I’m a slave to sarcasm) the all-important goal in your life as a secondary student who wants a good career, a good life, is the final placement within the VCE system. And after that it’s smooth sailing, everything has been determined, you’re either a winner or a loser, and you’d better suck it up.
So if we are dissatisfied as teachers, as parents maybe, then are we trapped in a system that leaves us no choice? Bearing in mind that I’m now talking about my own school and its high-ATAR reputation…Do we have no choice at all? We are doomed to cram kids’ craniums with all the information they need, the right way to write, while they focus on the right way to take the UMAT, etc.?
What is the worst that could happen if we started to think for ourselves about what was important and essential to learning? What if we questioned the relevance of subject content to life? What if we decided to forgo some of the content in favour of skills? What if we realised that practising making mistakes was even more important than achieving high marks, that we would be doing our students a favour if we didn’t give them all the answers?
Would the sky fall?
Photo by Frank on Flickr
Would the students fall behind? Would they score lower on the ATAR scale? Would it matter?
What if we really believed we had a choice. No, stop – really, really believed? What if the leadership team really believed and supported changes that would be more important to our students’ overall success in life after school, and instead of reviewing how well our students did retrospectively on the first day back of the new year, they chose to promote a different agenda? Would the reputation of that school plummet as the students’ marks plummeted?
Or would the school develop, over time, a new reputation, as a place of learning, of respect for thinkers and researchers, of a love for discourse, of a desire for dialogue across subject areas, of creativity, innovation and making. What if the spirit of student-led interest groups became that of the academic life of students? What if students could decide which aspect of set topics they wanted to do, and had choices about how to do it, with a maker bank of contemporary options to explore and play around with?
What if the principal decided that teachers were over-worked and exhausted, with no time to nurture themselves, cynical about change because they had no voice, disappointed about superficial requests for the use of technology without the time to play together and really understand its potential?
What if the principal changed the relentless cycle of weeks, terms, semesters, and created spaces for relaxation, communication, activity and creativity. What if teachers remembered their love of their subjects, and rediscovered their passions in other areas? And what if the whole school community saw this, and students would see another side of their teachers, and the relationship between them would change?
What if these things were possible? Why are they not possible?