Wednesday, July 05, 2006

the machine

We push our children too hard, I think. Teachers push too hard and parents push too hard. The climate of our society means that everything we do, think, are is geared towards maximum output with minimum resources - this is for everyone not just parents and children. We are constantly encourged to do as much as we can or else something bad will happen - life will pass us by. Let me tell you something, life doesn't pass anyone by. Everyone gets one life and everyone lives it, whether it be 2 minutes long or 101 years long. The life happens regardless. Life happens! We're pushed at work to achieve impossible standards. We're pushed to look good. We're pushed to travel, or invest, or save, or buy/buy/buy, or find the perfect partner and to lead exciting lives. Parents are expected to have complete social lives like they did before they were parents (pfeeeeeeee!) and children are expected to be the absolute best at everything they do - piano lessons, karate lessons, Footy lessons, Drama lessons, Callisthenics, Gymnastics, Dance, Sculpture, Scouts, orchestra, tutoring etc. It's any wonder we are burnt out before we begin. We live 5 lives in one.

I worry about this. I spend a lot of time at work, feeling pressured by the amount I have to do. And I spend a lot of time outside work feeling pressured about what I'm going to do at work. You finish one thing but the inbox is never empty. There is always a pile. What ever happened to the 8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours play idea? I rarely spend 8 hours a day at work. More like 9 or 10 (sometimes 11 - waaayyy over 12 when it's interview time or report time). I sleep for about 6-7 hours a night. But play doesn't happen. That so-called designated play time encompasses, showers, food, homework, meetings, running errands etc And so really...there is very little play. You get nothing. We're being smokescreened. Do you ever feel like there aren't enough hours in the day? It's because really, there aren't! Keeping up to date with "living in a society where everyone expects far too much" is a full time job. I often feel like I need to take a step outside of myself and to just breathe. I feel very lucky to get school holidays. I am being 100% honest with you when I say that I think I would have a nervous breakdown without them. I think there are a lot of teachers (most probably) who would feel the same way.

But the constant pushing starts at a young age. Us teachers look at a 5 year old sometimes and don't see a child who is developmentally 5 years old. We look at them and think "what more can they do?" "what more can they demonstrate?" "How can I get them to work harder?". We also ask "how can I achieve the best out of my grade?" and "How can I cater for different abilities within my classroom?" but bottom line - it's results that count. A lot of our worth as teachers as seen by others in society is not nurturing a love for learning (unfortunately, because that's exactly why we go into it!). But you ask any parent or principal what they see when they look at a teacher or a school and it's the numbers on the page. If your grade of 5 year olds is reading at a higher level than another grade of 5 year olds at another school then the principal gets a kudos from the government. The parents start to be impressed. Other teachers wonder how you did it. We, as a society, are results driven. We as a society give worth to those who achieve results that can be written down on paper. Is it just so we can crack it out at dinner parties and smugly say see? look how smart they are?. We don't ever value kindness or humanitarianism in the same way. That gets a nice little pat on the back. Oh well done you *are* a special person. No wonder the kids are feeling the pinch.

Today, we had a PD where the guy got up and made a simple comment about how we're trying to get our children to work with big numbers in maths because it's so impressive, but sometimes these kids don't understand the basics. The point is to get them to understand first and then move on - not to just keep pushing. He said something like by the middle of grade 2 children might be starting to look at numbers in the hundreds - if they are ready. I could hear the wheels turning in the heads of my former peers. No way, that's too low - my kids are better than that! I can do better than that. My results will be better than that. My class will beat the standards. The truth of the matter is that there are some children in every grade who will be a cut above the rest. They will be able to work easily 2 years ahead of their level. There will be some who will work 2 years behind. Most will be average. Such is the way the bell curve works. We talk a lot about catering for different abilities within the classroom but I think there's a dirty secret in teaching and that is that we are pushing for all children to go harder, do better, be stronger - or else they'll never do well. We feel it from the government, from parents, from the media and from ourselves. Like our personal worth as professionals is measured by the results we get on paper.

It's not just us. It's parents too. You send home a book that they have been tried and tested for - it's the perfect level for them to read without having a mental breakdown. You send it home and the next day the child will walk up sheepishly and say Mum says this is too easy and she wants level 14 like Joshua is reading. You need to send home level 14. So you arrange a meeting with the parent and you explain exactly why and how this child is actually taking home the perfect level for their reading ability and the parent will just point blank look at you with hatred (like you are actively trying to keep their child from succeeding!) and then go out to the readers and take the level they want anyway! Why? They want their child to read as well as someone else, even if their child is developmentally not ready for to do so. Never mind the poor child who has no comprehension and is struggling. So what you end up doing is planning all this extra homework for the child to do every night so that they read better. The message is clear: You are not good enough. Work harder or you will never amount to anything. The kid is five fucking years old. Let them run and play, please!

Sometimes I look around at what we're fostering and I get sad. Then I look around at what we as adults have become. We are little more than machines. You know what I want to do when I get to the weekend? Sleep! That's it. Give me a pillow and I'm quite content. I'm just happy to breathe for a bit.