For teachers in Australia the year is drawing rapidly to a close. It is a time for packing away classrooms, taking down displays of student learning and saying farewell to students as they move on to new classes. It is also a time for reflecting on the journey that has led to this point and the adventures that have occurred along the way. This annual cycle of endings and new beginnings is one of the unique aspects of teaching; one of the many opportunities and challenges that make teaching somewhat different to other professions.
To the general public the appeal of teaching is too often simplified to the benefits of the vacation time available. To teachers these days are understood as the much needed time to recover from a performance schedule that places great demands on our mental and physical resources. Each day in classrooms across the world teachers are doing their act, performing for their audience and using their understanding of pedagogy and curriculum to provide learning experiences that meet the needs of every student. At the ending of one year it is worth taking a moment to ponder what is so remarkable about teaching as a profession.
The new year will bring with it a new beginning, with new students and families to know and understand. It will bring with it patterns that are well versed around programmes that have survived the yearly review, events such as camps and routines of meetings and interviews. We begin the uphill climb again with new students and some new turnings along the way. The path to the top is never quite the same but we pass familiar places along the way. This mix of the familiar with the ever changing nature of teaching and learning ensures boredom in the role of teaching is easily avoided. Meeting the unique set of challenges our students bring with them, forces us to continually invent new solutions. Change is an inevitable part of teaching.
Beyond the changes that each new set of students bring with them comes the opportunities for change that new technologies and teaching methods bring. The affordances of technology bring new opportunities and effective teachers and schools will strive to evaluate the options as they emerge and integrate those with the greatest promise. The challenge is to pick the real gems from the assortment of shiny new options that are quickly found to be lacking real merit. Education’s rapid embrace of fads is well noted and yet difficult to avoid. Some emerging trends are showing great promise but require a significant shift in how we engage our students. Shifts towards STEM or STEAM bring challenges to our pedagogical content knowledge and our operational structures. For many the ongoing roll out of the National Curriculum brings another set of challenges as we interpret the new outcomes and blend these with our existing practice.
Each year also seems to bring a more detailed and scientifically based understanding of how we learn. This expanding science of learning informed by MRI based brain research is changing our view of intelligence and revealing brains that possess a potential for change and malleability that we previously felt was not possible. This brings a need to shift our thinking about what intelligence is and how we may facilitate the greatest success of all our students. Integrating this research with understandings of leaners uncovered in the classroom presents new challenges for teachers and ensures there is always something new to explore.
New students, new methods, new technologies and new understandings mean teaching is a career that should never be routine. While a few teachers cling to their long favoured programmes and methods with unwavering commitment such behaviour is increasingly uncommon. Evolution, revolution and innovation is increasingly the norm. A key driver of this is the spirit of collegiality and sharing that is such an essential element of the profession. Teachers have always loved talking about teaching; just ask the non-teacher friends who get stuck at social events amidst a group of teachers. This collegiality has gained a boost from social networks such as Twitter and FaceBook. Social networking has made it possible to build connections with teachers at a global scale and ensures ideas spread alongside meaningful evaluations of what works and does not. The image of an isolated teacher alone with a class should exist no more as we make connections and share our experiences.
Every job brings with it elements we wish we could spend less time on and teaching is not immune. It is a profession under a public spotlight with a role to play within politics and in the shaping of society. Our schools and our teaching plays an important part in creating the future and preserving the past. Accountability and external control are inescapable elements of the education landscape. How we respond to these pressures and the manner in which we frame our profession requires care and vision. If the shape of education is to be determined by teachers and not the whim of politicians then we must more effectively communicate how we may best meet the needs of all stakeholders.
While change is unavoidable the most rewarding aspect of education as a profession seems to remain constant. As a group teachers are a wonderful set of people to spend time with. Maybe it is linked to the factors that bring us to the profession in the first part, that desire to help others to improve. Maybe it is the shared experience that comes from the challenges we face in the classroom. The heart of every school is its people and it is the communal spirit and common purpose that unites us as a profession.
Looking back at the end of the year allows for reflection on the greatest reward teaching brings. Across the year our students transform in front of our eyes and while the day to day change is too small to notice the cumulative effect from the start of the year to the end is plain to see. Few professions allow you to play such a significant role in the growth and development of an individual as teaching does. Our efforts directly influence the direction our students will take, the futures they will live and the ideals they will value. Those moments when you are able to see the influence you have had are the most valuable and the ones that bring us back each year with fresh enthusiasm.