And regular standardised testing simply makes people better at sitting tests.
Imposing goals and standards on teaching professionals only serves to squeeze from them the last few drops of goodwill they may have held.
It is considered something purely technical and methodical that can be rationalised and weighed.
But quality teaching isn’t borne of tiered ‘professional standards’.
‘Your body doesn’t know if stress comes from work or a tiger chasing you. It tells you to do something – your body wants you to react.’ TWELVE MONTHS LATER I’m still turning that experience over in my mind.
‘YOU’VE RESISTED THE urge for too long,’ my psychologist tells me. Cortisol has been dripping into your system with every stressful day.’ She mimes the drops of cortisol with her hands. There was pain in my chest, my heart clenching and screaming . I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution. If I was successful in my job, that’s what would happen. Every primary teacher, regardless of their location, has a roll similar to mine. It was Grade 6 (twelve-year-olds) and they were preparing for their SATs: standardised tests that determine which high school they can attend. My fire has turned to ash, burnt out from relentlessly keeping account when I should have been teaching, reporting when I should have been listening, making standard when I should have been making a difference. My class roll wasn’t disproportionate in the number of students with particular needs. SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, I took my first teaching position in London.Good teaching comes from professionals who are valued.It comes from teachers who know their students, who build relationships, who meet learners at their point of need and who recognise that there’s nothing standard about the journey of learning.I was scared of a workload that was in no way related to teaching and learning. I CLEAN HOLIDAY apartments now but sometimes, while I’m smoothing fresh linen over the beds, I imagine a student called Australia. I think about how there isn’t any fact I can teach a kid that they can’t Google for themselves, and what this means for them as learners. I think about technology and how to teach skills of communicating, synthesising, critiquing and creating within the World Wide Web.And now I’m scared for all the children in primary schools across Australia, because I think more teachers – more good teachers – are going to leave and in doing so, our country’s very foundations become decidedly shaky. I think about how to convey the emotional intelligence required to navigate social media and Web 2.0.I fill an entire page with notes: new addresses, schedules, buses. The smell of sour milk and cow shit hangs around Dave Snr. I am not meant to, but I wrap my fingers around his and watch how Ray’s dark skin contrasts against my white pallor. I am able to create a feeling of family and safety and security. After recess, students from Year 1 came into my class for maths since their ability required they worked at this remedial level. According to standard testing procedure, we are not to give feedback. I’m pointing to the number six and I can hear my student thinking this is the tricky one – is it nine or is it six? Even the classes not subjected to NAPLAN endure ongoing formal assessment from teachers turned examiners who must procure benchmarks, reach standards and gather data. This testing costs me dearly – it costs me time with my learners, it costs my energy, it costs me the trust of my students.I can feel Trudy’s confidence slipping away as the ground shifts beneath her dancing feet. He told me once he doesn’t want to be Koori anymore. Our once-a-fortnight for half-a-day school counsellor probably wouldn’t know what to say to that either. In my classroom they know they can take risks and try new things and experience failure while being supported by me and by each other. They come to love the taste of reading, the flavour it adds to their life. I couldn’t assess with extra students in the class. It is his first correct answer but I can’t congratulate him. Blocks are being stacked as a tall and wobbling tower. But it’s costing Australia too – the price of our young minds and their desire to learn.I was scared my teaching would be judged critically.I was scared of neglecting students by prioritising paperwork over their needs. I dream up a new paradigm of education, something that isn’t a reconstruction of an old industrial model. We need ingenuity, creativity and a profound commitment to our teachers, schools and students. I think about schools focused on ‘students and learning’ not on ‘performance and results’.