Grateful (and slightly overwhelmed) by the turn out, I awkwardly pulled the mangled microphones and oversized headphones from my bag. I’m hyperaware of any body language that follows; quietly observing nervous twitches hiding in the corner of a smile, eyes darting around looking for who will interview first, then hushed laughter. Teachers are well acquainted with centre stage in their classrooms, but it is rare to find themselves under the spotlight on such a personal level outside of school hours.
We are seated in the car, but it is the politicians and policy makers who are sitting in the driver’s seat taking us for a spin. If the car crashes and anyone is injured, you can be sure that it is the teachers who will bear the full brunt of the blame. We are expected to navigate the obstacles despite not having any control of the wheel.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020) there are more than 295,000 teachers employed full-time in Australia; not to mention all of the valued and relevant part-time and casual teachers. These are the opinions that should matter most regarding any decisions affecting students or learning.
Let’s ask these teachers for input on three questions, group brainstorm:
- How can we make the current teaching workload more sustainable for teachers? What needs to change so that engaged learning and growth can be facilitated most effectively in each classroom?
- How can we change, reduce, or simplify the Australian Curriculum so that teachers have creative control and freedom to follow their students’ interests? How can we slow it all down to give all of our students enough time to process everything and truly fall in love with the learning journey? How can we take into account the yearly disruptions (events, sick leave, testing, assessing) to each term’s timetable?
- How can we change our approach to staff wellbeing to avoid the predicted teacher shortages due to low workforce retention caused by workplace bullying, excessive demands of time, and issues with adequate level of support from leadership?
Perhaps I'm idealistic to wonder what changes could be made if all of our voices were heard and real systemic change was possible.
Back to the teachers in the spotlight.
I can happily reassure you that all conversations on tour are recorded for my ears only, a simple but necessary accommodation for my issues with auditory processing and working memory. This feels somehow less intimidating than filmed on camera. Nothing visual is linking each teacher to their interview; that voice could be anyone, really. Whereas, camera footage adds another complex layer, an unknown pair of eyes watching and judging; the presence of that tiny screen is intrusive and creates a barrier between what teachers are comfortable sharing.
The first two interviews didn’t work because a connection had become loose, then the next was a garbled mess for no apparent reason. Finally, the microphones were working, and the crowd of teachers descended into discussions in every direction. Normally an avid people-watcher, I tried to steal glances at the conversations around me, happily observing the big smiles and loud laughter. Teachers were connecting, strengthening the support of this already close community. It was actually quite beautiful to witness.
This time I discovered that many of our personal triumphs involved consistently having to prove our capabilities to others. We were proud when a parent finally realised that we had their child’s best interests at heart, or when a toxic colleague recognised the value we brought to a team. Another example was proving that we could manage a class of distinctly different personalities and challenging behaviours. We enjoyed striving to prove ourselves to others.
Is that the people-pleasing in us all? Whether it is consciously or subconsciously, there is a drive to change the perception and judgement of a teacher. We are fighting to gain respect for the vocation that we love.
We prove ourselves time and time again - through our workload, our overtime, our planning, our commitment, our results, our students’ results – the list goes on. We are yelling into the wind that we love our students and are doing our best to support them. We do our best to show parents that we are in this together, as a team. We show our leadership that we are following best practice and doing everything we can to thrive.
Our triumphs are all connected to making a difference.
But who will make a difference and prove themselves to us?