Dear Graduating Teachers of 2012,
For the past 18 months I have had the privilege and challenge of working closely with a wonderfully energetic, confident and intelligent graduate teacher. I say it is a privilege because I feel honoured that she has seen me as a sounding board, confidant and colleague with whom she could question and explore this amazing profession. I say a challenge not simply because she has asked so many questions, but because she has challenged my thinking, my teaching and thereby has helped renew my enthusiasm and enjoyment of this vocation. If you had told me 18 months ago that I would look forward to the prospect of throwing out a textbook completely, I’d have told you you were mad! Our conversations have been many and varied and I have appreciated each of them. She has taught me much! So as you step out of the hallowed halls of your university, I want to share some of our learning with you.
Everyone keeps saying that the students today are different. Graduate teachers are different too! You are no doubt eager to walk into the staff room, confident in the knowledge that you are up to date agents of change in the world of education. You have the latest IT skills, you know all about creating interesting, varied lessons and you know how the kids of today learn. And you are also much more confident than most experienced teachers were upon their first day on the job. I assumed this was because of a change at the tertiary level – that you were finally being given time in a classroom to put into practice all those theories, the proper names of which you will soon forget… What my young colleague has taught me is that your confidence is built on much more than that. You have probably been working while studying, quite possibly in a leadership role of some sort. You know you can lead. You already know something about working life. You also feel perhaps that classroom teaching is not what you want to do for the rest of your working life. So while you are doing it you want to throw yourself into it completely. You are not content to quietly do and wait for another time when an older colleague looks to retirement to challenge and change things. You want to do it now and you know you will do it well, because if something’s worth doing it’s got to be done properly – you live with something of an ‘all or nothing’ approach to life.
This means you will be wonderful young teachers. You will work hard, you will be creative and you will have an easy rapport with your students. With some of your colleagues, however, your eagerness to change everything and to change it all NOW may not go so smoothly. So here is some advice I hope may ease the way forward.
Firstly, remember that your colleagues are at many different stages of life and career. While you have time and energy to devote to constantly creating and changing, some of your colleagues are sleep deprived parents of young children, carers of elderly or ill parents, dealing with teenage angst at home as well as at work or… who knows? Their classroom practice may be the only thing providing some stability to their emotional well-being and their sense of identity at the moment. Be careful that you don’t pull the rug out from under them entirely.
Secondly, if at first your ideas and suggestions are met with suspicion or negativity, don’t take it personally and PLEASE don’t drop those ideas! Chip away with them. Just like our students need time to process new concepts, so too your colleagues need time to mull over them, to consider them from multiple angles. Many of us will be looking bigger picture, longer term, carefully contemplating how your ideas may have implications on many levels. Remember too, that we have had many changes thrust upon us in the last couple of years, mostly from outside our schools, and we are adapting to change on many fronts. You are not having to unlearn and relearn. You are not having to re-write pages and pages of curriculum documentation along the way. Your ideas will make us better teachers, but please be patient with us! Like I said, if you had suggested I throw out the textbook 18 months ago I would have thought you were mad. That’s partly because it had been done in one area and replaced with something I think is even more restricting. But my young colleague gave me time, added to her initial ideas and now I think we will have a better overall result! We haven’t reinvented the wheel, we’re improving the wheel together instead!
Thirdly, please don’t tell us that we have to change just because kids today are different – we know they are! Articulate to us how a change will work better with them and for them. And it’s probably a good idea to preface it with something along the lines of “I think x is really good, but I was thinking about… because…”. We probably worked hard to bring about whatever it is you’re ready to improve.
So, Agent of Change, inspire us, challenge us and work with us. Your contributions will be valued. Don’t be disheartened by our apparent slowness to do things differently. Keep prodding – we are listening!
Welcome to school!