Greetings and hello to you all,
You may have noticed in recent years that, a) the MyThinks team has been somewhat absent from the blogosphere for two or so years, and b) people don’t read blogs any more.
Well… imagine my surprise this week when the National Party, in their infinite wisdom, decided to release an education policy. As you can imagine, this got us so riled up here in the office that we dusted off our Windows XP laptop, waiting 17 hours for all the updates to be installed, waited another hour for it to become unfrozen, turned it off and on again, then started writing.
As tempting as it was to ask ChatGPT to come up with some scintillating arguments as to why the National Party were not only barking up the wrong tree, but they had turned into a cat and were clawing the eyes out of ever single teacher across the country, we decided to write our own letter. A letter of protest on behalf of our great benefactor and overall supreme leader Mr Michael Boon. Here is what our AI (actual intelligence) came up with:
Dear Christopher Luxon and Erica Stanford,
I know this is a very long email, but please read it. It’s important.
I listened to your education policy announcement this week with both disappointment and a sense of dread. It concerns me, yet again, that people with very little educational experience other than when they were at school, are again drawing from the same arguments that failed when National Standards were introduced. As a teacher well into my second decade working in the sector, I feel I have some burning questions I feel I need answered.
(NOTE: I have cc’d other interested parties to see if they have answers to some of my questions)
Firstly, the huge question I have is about time. If we teachers are to spend an hour per day on reading, writing, maths, and science, that calculates to four hours per day. The average school day starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm. This is 6 hours. Break times differ from school to school, but roughly speaking, there is a shorter break of around thirty minutes and a longer break of around forty-five minutes to an hour. Students are in class for between four and a half to maybe just under 5 hours a day. When you remove the four hours for the basics, that leaves around 5 hours a week for all the technologies – including digital, Physical Education and Health, The Arts (dance, music, drama, and visual arts), learning languages, and the Social Sciences (which includes NZ History). The only solutions I see to this is either we extend the school day, or we have to drop the teaching of some of these, I want to say, non-basic subjects.
Secondly, as a teacher, what sort of immediate in-class support am I going to get for the 20% or so of students who will instantly resist having to work for four hours per day on subjects they aren’t hugely successful at? As I see it, this policy will lead to more students becoming disengaged with their learning, leading to more truancy and a further fall in our ‘international ratings’ – despite international ratings being the least important thing in a young person’s life.
There are so many other ‘non-basic’ issues going on at your average school these days, it’s almost too hard to count. We are constantly dealing with students who have learned helplessness, stress and anxiety, post-covid health issues, disrupted family lives (I’m sure whānau in Hawke’s Bay, Tairawhiti, Auckland, and Northland will have things to say about disruption). As with anything, it seems funded by the government, it is very rare to have support in anything other than very extreme cases. Are we going to get extra support to help deal with the inevitable resistance from a cross-section of our students? Or are we going to be left to our own devices?
As well as all this, if you are going to prescribe what we teach and when we teach it, how does this link to all our local curriculum? How will the government tell us what to teach? How will this be monitored? Will the Education Review Office have this added to their remit? Will schools be considered ‘failing’ if they are given a poor review? And how will this impact on teachers and school leaders if their school, despite all their hours and hours of hard work per week, is deemed to be failing by the Wellington bureaucrats? Just ask some of the educators in the UK how the system has ended up over there.
Education is mostly about whanaungatanga – relationships. We work so incredibly hard throughout every school year to create strong, and sometimes hard-won, relationships with our students and their whānau. Very occasionally, anything above breaking through some of these outer walls our rangitahi have built up is a success for me.
I know the National Party will say that their language has changed since the Hekia Parata years, yet their current education spokesperson Erica Stanford said we basically put our finger into the wind to decide what we teach. With that one comment, she has impugned the massive amount of work all teachers do each week to create engaging lessons for our students. That’s a pretty harsh position to start from.
With this policy, you are going to impose something on an entire industry. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t let the current government try an impose something on an entire industry like, I don’t know, an integrated water policy perhaps?
Before you further develop your education policies, please talk to teachers. Please spend time with teachers. I challenge you, Chris or Erica, to come and actually spend a day with me at school – or any teacher in any school. If you spend a day with one of us to get a clear idea of the reality we are grappling with regularly, I guarantee you would change your thinking. (Slight aside: The single best thing you could do for the education industry is mandating a class size of fifteen, but that would cost billions, so I’m not holding my breath).
Please feel free to email me a non-generic, personal reply with your thoughts.
Thank you for reading to the end of this post. MyThinks promises to have something more satirical in the upcoming days.
Until then – fare thee well mine friend.