Reflections on the work of the Primary Teacher into the Twenty First Century: The case of literacy teaching and learning at one school.
I wrote the following paper on my work at a school in Canberra as part of a reflection process on my own practices and conceptual development as a teacher/learner. While a reflection of teaching practice, this paper is also a statement of my philosophy and goals as a teacher/learner. I strongly believe we need to equip ourselves and our students with the skills and means to be flexible, dynamic and responsive to our and their experiences as we prepare ourselves and our students for a world we do not and cannot really know. -AH
- The challenge
- Position Description and Selection Criteria for a Primary Teacher
- Examples of Literary activities in the K-3 Classroom
Teaching into the coming century will change even more rapidly than it has in the past century as reflected in Barchan's (1980) and Keeve's (1990) accounts of Australian education between 1880 and 1901 (although the central issues may never change). At the onset of the Twenty First Century, futurologists predict radical changes in our ways of being, thinking, doing, living and working (e.g., Reich, 1993; Toffler, 1990 & Wurman, 1989). Together they present a picture which has far reaching implications for our understanding, teaching, learning and use of literacy well into the next century. As the world grows closer and information amasses and becomes more complex, they predict power will reside with those who are flexible, dynamic and able to meaningfully access, pattern and apply information as required and when required to meet highly specific demands. They argue that we will no longer be able to be hesitant about the connection between literacy and individual and cultural demands as these will form the basis for the construction of meanings in relationships, in schools and at work. Furthermore, they argue that symbolic-analytic skills will be essential for functioning in such a world. These skills require an individual to be highly flexible, able to conceptualise a problem, rapidly access relevant information pertaining to the problem, derive meaningful patterns from the relevant information for the resolution of the problem, promote the resolution to others and readily respond to consequences of that resolution (Ref.: also Pfeffer, 1992, re successful international organisations and the use of this modus operandi ). Schools and specifically, teachers, need to respond accordingly.
Being a teacher requires a complex multifaceted dynamic set of skills. Teachers need to be able to fit in with others such as their colleagues, the students and the parents (Holmes, 1993a; Turney, Eltis, Towler & Wright, 1986). They also need to be able to critically evaluate their ways of 'doing' their job as outside demands change the requirements of teachers (Lovat, 1991; Henry, Knight, Lingard & Taylor, 1988). Further they need to be able to educate the children in their care in a way which is liberating by providing a wide range of learning possibilities and options for all students (McRae, 1994; Munro, 1994; Lieberman & Miller, 1992; Connell, Ashenden, Kessler & Dowsett, 1982). At the same time, teachers need to able to negotiate with the different stakeholders in the school setting to bring clear direction and decision making to bear on those practices (Holmes, 1993b; AECCC, 1991; Keeves, 1990; Barcan, 1980). Frequently teachers have to be sufficiently flexible to and negotiate to 'do what it takes' to do their job because supports and resources are such that there seems no other options available.
Socialisation as a teacher helps a teacher understand the complexities and demands of the profession and the specific role of classroom teacher. The contradiction in the whole socialisation process is that while teachers need to "fit" the professional roling required to perform associated duties (e.g., communicate with parents), they also need to be critical of that roling process if they are to continue their development as professional educators who educate socially aware individuals (Turney, et al, 1986).
Teaching as emancipation, in particular, has received little practical support from the teaching profession with goals of schools, as a rule, rather than the exception, are vague and contradictory. For example, teachers are expected to be professionals yet are treated by the bureaucracy as incompetent fools who do not know how to do their job. Teachers are expected to justify everything they do in the name of education. There seems to be a circular argument here. Teachers expect children to justify their learning and educational bureaucracies expect teachers to justify their teaching, students' learning and their professional stance, educational bureaucracies are expected to justify their very existence by politicians and politicians claim they are accountable to the electorate which consists of the families of the teachers' students!!! From speaking with large numbers of teachers in schools across much of Australia last year and earlier this year it is clear that most fear for the future viability of teaching as a 'doable' job let alone a profession (see also McRae, 1994).
Reich (1993) claims that the needs of a 'global' world will be for a deeper understanding of individuals within their culture and in the culture of the "global village" in which nationalism will not have a place. He goes on to claim that international relations, the nature of work and communication needs are changing rapidly as the world becomes "one world", a 'global village'. It is this shift in emphasis that Toffler (1990) says is creating a "powershift".
Toffler (1990:17) defines a "powershift" as a deep-level change in the very nature of power which, he says, is already underway. Whereas muscle and money have meant power in the past, Toffler (1990) predicts real power will "reside in the mind" with information or knowledge (i.e., "knowledge capital") being the most versatile of all power. Specifically he suggests:
This new system for making wealth is totally dependent on the instant communication and dissemination of data, ideas, symbols, and symbolism. It is ... a super-symbolic economy ... This new system takes us a giant step beyond mass production toward increasing customization, beyond mass marketing and distribution toward niches and micro-marketing, ... to a new"cognitariat" (pp25-26).
The implications of this 'powershift' and the phenomenon of the global village has huge ramifications for teachers in the next decade and beyond. Teachers are expected to function competently (i.e., professionally) in the classroom, the school and the community (Turney, et al, 1986). However, what this means is not clear as demands and expectations are placed on teachers from a variety of sources including their employer, the profession, the school board, colleagues, parents, students and from themselves (Turney, et al, 1986). Teachers' experiences as professionals are almost as varied as each employment situation in which they find themselves.
Position Description and Selective Criteria for a Primary Teacher
Working in an independent parent-run school presents a peculiar set of problems for teachers. In such settings teachers may be vulnerable to parents' classroom interpretations of the school philosophy and practice which may or may not be congruent with those of the teacher. I assisted one such school to identify their specific needs for teaching staff following a series of issues arising from the hiring of staff who were unwilling or unable to meet the school's philosophical or broader curricula needs. Historically, the school was established by parents looking for something akin to John Holt's (1970, 1964) progressive philosophy of education which emphasised natural learning and a strong home-school continuum for their children. Children are in vertical groups with at least three Years in the one group. Groupings are negotiated with each child and their parents and are based on interests and friends. The curriculum (including the social and emotional aspects) is negotiated in a democratic context (see Connell, et al 1982) mostly at whole class meetings with specifics for individual children's personal curriculum being negotiated individually with the child and sometimes the parents. Whole class meetings can and are called at any time and conducted by any member of the school community. The resulting Position Description and Selection Criteria are presented in Tables 1 and 2 respectfully.
Table 1: Position Description for the Primary Teacher - Years K-6 at The School
POSITION: Primary Teacher - Years K-6
DESCRIPTION OF POSITION AND GENERAL STANDARD
EXAMPLES OF DUTIES UNDERTAKEN
The aim of the Position Description was to make explicit as possible the school's expectations for the incoming teacher. The school has always viewed itself as responsive to the needs of its community and the wider community in a real sense for individual children, whole classes, the whole school and families and prided itself in putting into practice what it claimed in the school philosophy in its information package.
The Selection Criteria established the specific requirements relating to experience, qualifications, knowledge and skills, personal qualities and special considerations regarding philosophy, ethos and professional practice for the position at The School.
As the Position Description and Selection Criteria show, the teacher's work at the school is extremely varied and demanding. Outside the classroom thew teacher is expected to participate the running of the whole school including developing close social relationships with families, joining the School Council and running professional development seminars and workshops for parents, staff and interested others. Then there is playground duty, twice weekly staff meetings and professional debriefing and supervision. The teacher needs to be a 'jack of all trades' and very resourceful in knowing who to call upon for assistance (e.g., parents, extended family, friends, outdoor education, woodwork and metalwork specialists, etc.) and what to do as children's interests evolve and are developed by the teacher through appropriate learning opportunities.
Table 2: Selection Criteria for the Primary Teacher - Years K-6 at The School
QUALIFICATIONS KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
Examples of Literacy Activities in the K-3 Classroom
It is through the connectedness of the classroom with the rest of daily living that the classroom teacher is expected to actively promote life-long learning and literacy practices in the children. How each child responds to learning opportunities to create their own personalised learning outcomes is an interesting process to both watch and to be involved in. With each child engaged in different activities or in small groups doing very different things, the classroom can seem rather chaotic very daunting for the untrained eye, even for the trained teacher, (see Cambourne & Turbill, 1979). The timetable and the teacher needs to be very flexible yet sufficiently structured to ensure time is spent as constructively as possible throughout the day, over the term and the entire year.
Table 3: Strategies the teacher would use to facilitate meaning making during the construction of literacy in the classroom
EXAMPLES OF LITERACY ACTIVITIES IN THE K-3 CLASSROOM
The teacher's work at The School is all consuming and 'never ending' but it is tempered, usually, by supportive open, democratic community which works in the 'best interests of the child' (Burdekin, 1997; United Nations, 1990). However, teachers new to the school consistently report the need for a huge adjustment to these demands especially in thinking and working in such a flexible hands on, integrated and democratic environment. Individual teachers are supported to work in a similar democratic environment to the one they provide for the children in their classes. They also report they really appreciate the professional freedom because they no longer have to 'do what it takes' to teach children because they have no other choice, they 'do what it takes' because of the inherent professional challenge and satisfaction in doing their best regardless of the pay rates!
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Toffler (1990:18) defines data as "more or less unconnected 'facts'"; information as "data that have been fitted into categories and classification schemes or other patterns" and knowledge as "information that has been further refined into more general statements"
'Serendipitous' is perhaps not the right word but teachers are expected to be sufficiently flexible that they are able to take the children on an excursion at a minute's notice if something highly interesting (not necessarily relevant to the current lesson) is happening. Such excursions often lead into new areas of learning for the children (and sometimes the teacher!).
This information is based on previous work at this school (see Huber, 1995).