I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the 'Monogramatical' podcast this week, discussing the transforming landscape of education. A panel of educators spanning different generations were asked to reflect on how the classroom has evolved and where learning is heading in the 21st century. An upcoming program will be released, though in the meantime, here's a print version of the interview.
When did you start teaching?
I took a gap year after failing three weeks of uni, and have been working in schools ever since. Somehow, that’s now amounted to almost 13 years. Though I got my founding in the boarding and cocurricular side of things before eventually choosing the classroom.
What do you teach?
I teach Art and Design. Teaching the visual arts is unique in that the results aren’t formulaic. This year at St. Kevin’s, I’m teaching solely at the Year 9 campus. That means I’ll be delivering the same course to over 180 students. Yet, as opposed to garnering the same response from every student in a subject such as maths or science, every student has the creative ability to respond to the same task in completely different ways. Ability and skill certainly varies in art, though it is this variety that keeps the teaching interesting.
What was it like when you started?
I started just before the dawn of the real digital revolution in the classroom. Email was just starting to creep in, but not widely used. Overhead projectors were more the norm than smart whiteboards. The fact that I had my iPod on my desk was still a novelty that students wanted to check out. There was a sense that schools were becoming more litigious, and so brought the paperwork in risk assessments and analysis and so forth that was a red tape buffer to prevent us in a occupation where the parent (or dare I say paying customer in independent education) would hold us to account, and rightly so. There certainly wasn’t a list of every single child and what they were allergic to, nor did I know a thing about anaphylaxis training or the ever increasing list of conditions listed in the DSM such as ‘oppositional defiance disorder’. However…these are all auxiliary details of a working school. Fundamentally, the actual state of the post-industrial classroom hasn’t changed. Students file in and take their seats, some are eager to learn and desperate to acquire knowledge. Others need a bit more of a push. Boys continue to be self conscious about showing off how much they know. And the teacher is tasked with how to constantly update their approach to engage their audience, for if we are not entertaining in our delivery, who is actually listening?
Describe a typical day at work.
Some days can start with sports training. Although I don’t enjoy the earlier alarm, I certainly feel far more alive by the time the first bell goes. There may be a morning staff briefing, before the work day begins. The mechanics of the school days haven’t changed that much since I was at school and the format of timetables, recess, lunch and bells, with contained content in blocks remains the same. Until a better model can be proposed, this is the one that seems to work! The challenge for art is that 45 minutes can be quite pressed, as by the time active teaching commences after the class has settled, registers have been digitally recorded and equipment and materials are set up, it can almost feel as if it’s just about time to pack up again, and the students have just picked up their brushes! After lunch, the fatigue can be evident, moreso in summer. I believe a teacher needs to acknowledge that they could be teaching a very different audience in Period 7 to that in Period 1. Having said that, it’s the teacher’s challenge more than the student’s to make that lesson work.
What has changed since you entered the profession?
I have noticed a lot of great things that differ from when I was at school and then when I started working in them. Mental health awareness has come to the fore, and students are encouraged to seek help and are aware of the options available. Equality is a focus and students are engendered from an early age with a sense of social justice, empathy and an ability to understand that our differences make life rich, not foreign. Differentiated learning continues to identify that all students approach learning differently and we must be equipped to cater for a variety of student difficulties and needs, as opposed to delivering the one standardised lecture to the entire audience.
However, where I have most followed change is in technology. I have dedicated my research to the changing face of learning as a result of ICT evolving from being additional to integral to teaching. The challenge we face as educators is that students are presented with a device, unlike any other before it in schooling, where it can be just as easily used for recreation and entertainment as it can be for education. Compounding this issue is that, just as adults become comfortable and accustomed to the technology, it has just about moved on. So, Moore’s law, albeit from 1965, dictates that increases in power, decreases in size and consequently becomes cheaper, at an exponential rate, means we are living and working in a time of breakneck speed.
Where do you see things going?
My hope is that educational leadership will start to acknowledge that handing every student a device and telling them that they should use it to learn, is not enough. Teachers, students and definitely parents, need to learn how to use this tool effectively and appropriately. I don’t feel we have struck the balance right just yet. The novelty of rolling out elaborate and shiny laptop arrangements in to schools makes for excellent marketing and recognition to the technical gurus beyond such implementation. But for those beyond the school’s technical support help desk, teachers and students, using the hardware and software for the most pedagogically appropriate means still needs improvement. Beyond the classroom, balancing the myriad uses of students’ devices and it’s omnipotence in their lives can prove more challenging. However, this is not just a social problem isolated to children. Take one look around next time you’re at a restaurant and see how many adults are disengaged with their surrounds due to the allure of their screen. Now, if you think it’s hard for an adult to focus on the moment in what should be an enjoyable social situation, now do you understand how hard it might be for your Year 9, period 7, to be really invigorated by comprehending the cultural context of Cubism?