xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Monday, 18 September 2017

Millions of Federal dollars for formal testing in Year One. Did anyone ask the teachers what they REALLY need?

Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham will spend millions of dollars inflicting a universal literacy and numeracy testing regime on all Year One students. By doing this he is demonstrating the penchant for politicians to look as if they are interested in education and busily doing something about it.

There is not a Year One teacher in Australia who could not have told Minister Birmingham at the end of February this year which children in their class would thrive in language and numeracy, which children would achieve satisfactory outcomes and which children would struggle. They would struggle because of a variety of intellectual, physical, psychological, social, emotional and cultural factors.

What these Year One teachers want is not another testing regime imposed from above. What they want is more well trained Teacher Assistants, more school nurses, more speech therapists, more school psychologists. They especially want more social workers to visit families that are not coping, that are dysfunctional, that are affected by drugs, physical and sexual abuse. Many of the problems children experience at school originate well outside the classroom.

By inflicting this new universal testing scheme on Year One Teachers, Minister Birmingham is indulging in Teacher Bashing, because he is in effect saying that up till now Year One teachers have been derelict in their duty in detecting children at risk.

He also putting increased downward pressures on schools and teachers to introduce formal literacy and numeracy skills to the early years of childhood. Since NAPLAN was introduced in 2009, the pressure on teachers to introduce the formal teaching of language and numeracy skills into Kindergarten and Pre Primary classes has resulted in Kindergarten becoming the new Year One and Pre Primary the new Year Two.

The dangers of inflicting formal education on very young children was highlighted by highly respected Professor David Elkind, of Rochester University, in 1989, when he published his bestselling book, “The Hurried Child, The Power of Play and Miseducation.”

Elkind spent many years studying “The Hurried Child” and the many problems that arise from getting young children involved in formal education too soon. He stressed that “Education is not a race.” He believed that children’s education activities should be “developmentally appropriate.” Unlike our politicians, Elkind spent a lifetime researching the subject.

In 2001, Elkind published a paper entitled, “Much Too Early”. He again warned of the dangers of forcing formal education on minds not yet ready.  He warned of the “Growing call for early-childhood educators to engage in the academic training of young children.”  Elkind went on to point out that “Those calling for academic instruction of the young don't seem to appreciate that maths and reading are complex skills acquired in stages related to age. Children will acquire these skills more easily and more soundly if their lessons accord with the developmental sequence that parallels their cognitive development.”

“The short answer” said Elkind, “is that the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy. It is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty. It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes,  more than to improve the schools.”

Elkind wrote these words in 2001. They are even truer today than they were then. Elkind clearly identified the problem sixteen years ago yet politicians have continued to push for policies that win votes but do not necessarily improve schooling.

Unfortunately, some parents and most politicians, do see education as a race. Despite the research evidence of educators like Professor  Elkind, who have spent years studying the effects of “Too much Too Soon”, they believe that they can give children a head start in “The Race” by starting them earlier and earlier.

Elkind concludes by saying, “If we want all of our children to be the best that they can be, we must recognize that education is about them, not us. If we do what is best for children, we will give them and their parents the developmentally appropriate, high-quality, affordable, and accessible early-childhood education they both need and deserve.’’

He warned, "It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents.”

These chilling words, warning of large numbers of youth disaffected by schooling, should be written in bronze on the walls of every politicians’ office. The problem would be getting them to read them and understand them.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Herb Elliott: Outstanding Australian middle distance runner.

Herb Elliott was an outstanding Australian middle-distance runner. But an accident at school nearly ended his great career. Nearly ended it before it began. I know, because I was there when it happened.

In August, 1958, Herb Elliott flashed in to world prominence when he smashed the mile record by an incredible 2.7 seconds, running the distance in 3.54.7 minutes.

The following September he smashed the 1500 metre record by 2.1 seconds, when he ran the race in 3.36 minutes. The world was astounded by the young Australian’s incredible achievements. Mile and 1500 metre records are usually broken by tenths of a second. Breaking them by over two seconds was remarkable. However, even greater feats lay ahead.

Running in the 1500 metres at the Rome Olympics, Herb broke his own world record and spreadeagled an elite field of runners to win in 3.35.6 minutes. He finished  a whopping 2.6 seconds in front of the second placed runner, Michael Jazy, of France. In fact, in a photo taken of Herb as he crossed the finish line in that remarkable race, no other runner can be seen. Herb had left the world’s best runners trailing far behind in his wake.

We can get an idea of how wonderful Herb’s performance in that race was, by the fact that in the fourteen Olympic games held since 1960, his time would have won him the 1500 metre gold medal in ten of them. Between 1957 and 1961, Herb Elliott was never beaten in a mile or 1500 metre race.

And yet his outstanding international athletic career nearly did not happen.

In 1955, Herb and I were in the Leaving Class at Aquinas College. Herb was the Head Prefect and I was one of the footsloggers. In November of that year it was decided to hold a Prefect’s Dance in the school hall.

In preparation for this event, on a Saturday afternoon, Herb and I were asked to move the piano to the end of the hall. On the way, the top heavy piano overturned and fell on Herb’s foot. It broke his big toe. 

It ended any thoughts Herb had of participating in the Australian athletics championships in January, 1956.  Indeed, it more or less ended any thoughts he had of running competitively again.

In 1955, Herb was the Australian boys’ junior mile champion. At the 1955 Aquinas Faction Sports, Herb won the mile race, as everyone knew he would. He also won the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards races, as well as the high jump and the long jump. The only major event he did not win was the shot putt, which he did not enter. At the Greater Public Schools Interschool Athletics Carnival at the WACA ground in September that same year, Herb surprised no one by winning the mile in grand style and in record time.

At Aquinas of course, we all knew Herb was destined for greatness. In fact, I made a point of ensuring that the last time I kicked a football at Aquinas College at the end of Second Term, it was a drop kick to Herb. It was my way of having some connection to the certain fame that was to come.

In the early and mid-1950s, there was great interest in attempts by various runners to crack the four-minute mile barrier. Englishman, Roger Bannister, became the first person to run the mile under four minutes, when on May 6, 1954, he ran a time or 3.59.4.  46 days later, the great Australian miler, John Landy, smashed Bannister’s mile record at Turku, Finland, when he recorded a mile time of 3.58 seconds.

So, when young Herb Elliott started showing some promise as a mile runner, the Australian public and the media started paying attention. One person who was very interested was the flamboyant and eccentric sports trainer, Percy Cerruty.

I was there when Herb Elliott first met Percy Cerruty. Like Herb, I was a boarder at Aquinas. It was a Sunday morning and my parents had made their regular week-end visit to see their favourite, and only, son. On this balmy Spring Sunday in October of 1955, The Headmaster, Brother Murphy, had invited the famous Percy Cerruty to have a look at Herb and talk to the boys and their parents about running. That was what Brother Murphy had thought, but Percy did much more than just talk. After seeing Herb run two laps of the Memorial Oval, Percy made some comments on his style and stride length and then slipped into a dissertation that ranged from athletics to philosophies of life, eating habits and the evolution of man. All the while he talked and gesticulated in a most animated fashion and gradually took off all his clothes.

First, he removed his cravat, then his jacket, then his shirt. Next, he removed his shoes and socks. When he started to take down his trousers the boys all wondered what would happen next. There were many mothers present, including Herb Elliott’s mother. Well, none of the Brothers made a move, but they must have been relieved to see that under his trousers Percy was wearing a fancy pair of silk racing shorts. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

At that time, Percy would have been in his early sixties, but he had a finely muscled physique and proceeded to demonstrate how Man could run like a horse, a dog, a cheetah or a gazelle. He demonstrated different stride styles and different arm actions as he sprinted or jogged in front of the enthralled throng. He seemed to glide over the ground. He spoke non-stop and with such intensity that everyone present was spellbound by his delivery. At length, he finished and began putting his clothes back on. As my family and I walked away, my father commented that he felt like running up the grassy bank of the oval and back to the car. Percy Cerruty had that effect on people.

So, it was obvious that even Percy Cerruty thought that Herb was destined for big things. Then came the Prefects’ Dance and the broken big toe. Herb could not compete and even when his toe had healed he did not participate in the 1956 Western Australian amateur athletics events or the State Championships in September. It seemed that his running days were over.

Just by chance, Herb attended the Melbourne Olympics in November 1956. He was impressed by Olympic 1500 metre winner, Irishman, Ron Delany, and even spoke with him during the games. However, what really impressed Herb were the outstanding running achievements of Emil Zatopec and especially, Franz Stampfl, who won gold medals in the 5000 and 10 000 metres.

So inspired was Herb by these runners, that it rekindled his own interest in running. He contacted Percy Cerruty and began following the eccentric trainers Spartan regime at his
training camp at Portsea, on Port Philip Bay. Running for Coburg  in Melbourne on Saturday afternoons at Olympic Park, Herb's close to 4 minute mile times attracted a lot of attention.

At that time, Australia’s successor to the great John Landy was another up and coming runner, Mervyn Lincoln. I once Herb heard talking at an Old Aquinian gathering at the college. He spoke of a very hot afternoon in Melbourne. A strong, burning, searing northerly wind was blowing and the temperature was well over the old century Fahrenheit mark. Probably, well in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

Herb said, “I was tossing up whether to go to training at Olympic Park or not. But, I decided that if I was going to be successful, I needed to go to training, so off I went. When I jogged onto the track at Olympic Park, that northerly wind was like a blast from an open furnace.

“In those days, the training regime was to sprint one hundred meters and then jog one hundred meters and so on. Just after I started off, I noticed that Merv Lincoln had also come on to the track. He was running on the opposite side of Olympic Park to me. We ran around the track like pursuit bike riders. Sprinting 100 meters and then jogging one hundred meters. Then I noticed that while I was sprinting into the fierce northerly wind, Merv was jogging into it.

“Why would you do that?” asked Herb. “You come down on a stinking hot day to do your training, so that you can be the best that you can be. But then you take the easy way out. You jog into the wind and sprint with the wind.

“If you are trying to make yourself better, wouldn’t you do the hardest things. Sprinting into the wind makes you better than sprinting with the wind. I knew then,” Herb said, “that Merv Lincoln would never beat me in a race.” And he never did. Neither did anyone else.

I did see one famous race between Herb and Merv Lincoln on the grass track at Leederville Oval, probably in the summer of 1957/58, before Herb headed overseas to fame and glory. Lincoln was leading as they came into the final straight. Then Herb moved in front of him.  Lincoln came again and regained the lead. The crowd was in a frenzy. The lead changed about four times as they sprinted the final one hundred yards towards the finish tape before Herb claimed the front and ran over the line a winner.

On Thursday, September 7, my wife, Lesley and I will be venturing back to Aquinas College for the Senior Old Boys Day. One of the features of Seniors’ day is a whole school assembly, where the college’s Interschool Athletic Team is introduced. The Inters are held the day after Seniors’ Day.

Last year, the Sports master addressed the assembly and said how very privileged the boys were, earlier in the year, to hear an inspiring address given by Herb Elliott. He said that when training began for The Inters, he had wanted to impress  the boys with the magnificence of Herb’s 1500 metre win at the Rome Olympics.

He selected the school’s six fastest sprinters to each run 250 meters around the 1500-metre track and compared their time with Herb’s Olympic run. The six sprinters did extremely well and finished the 1500 metres in 3minutes and 39 seconds. It was a great effort, but Herb Elliott’s Olympic time was 3.35.6 seconds. More than three seconds faster. Truly a magnificent achievement. 

What a tragedy it would have been if that fast and furious, First Piano Movement, by Herb and me on that November Saturday in 1955, had stopped his illustrious career in its tracks?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

What are teachers really worth?

Teachers. What are they really worth?

Gail Kelly, former CEO of Westpac Bank, featured in a very interesting interview with Leigh Sales on the ABC’s  7-30 Report on Wednesday, July 26.

Ms Kelly explained that she started her professional life as a teacher, which she loved. However, after some years, the pressures of the job got to her. When she found herself growling at the children and dreading going to school, she quit. A very wise decision and a fortuitous one, as it turned out. She started working as a bank teller. Eventually becoming the very successful and well-respected CEO of Westpac. A wonderful success story.

In essence, Gail Kelly was telling us that she found that being the CEO of a very large corporation was a lot easier than being a teacher. As a CEO, she received a multi-million-dollar salary. I guess that shows what the real worth of a teacher is.

Of course, teachers are not paid six million dollars a year and no teacher would expect such remuneration. When I started teaching in the late 1950s, a teacher at the top of the salary scale on a par with a local member of parliament. These days the local member is about $100 000 dollars ahead. No, teachers do not expect six million dollars, though a little respect and recognition for a very hard job done well, would be nice.

On the other hand, there are many people who believe teachers are underworked and overpaid. They claim teachers work only five and half hours a day and have 12 weeks annual leave. They also say that teachers lack life skills because they have never left school and “worked in a real job”.

These critics seem to share the infantile view held by most Year One children that teachers have no life outside the classroom. Young children generally believe their teachers exist only at school, presumably eating their tea at the table and sleeping curled up in a classroom cupboard at night.

Teachers of course live in the same "real" world as everybody else. They raise their own families, buy and sell houses, suffer the loss of loved ones, invest in the stock market, travel overseas, involve themselves in community affairs and live the same sort of lives, under the same sort of pressures, as "normal" people.

The fact that teachers work in schools, which are extremely socially dynamic organisations, does not mean that they remain juvenile all their lives, any more so than working in hospitals makes doctors and nurses chronically ill or turns veterinarians and zookeepers into animals.

Do teachers, working with real people, experience less of the real world than roof tilers, butchers, bootmakers or people who spend all day staring at computer monitors moving other people’s money from one person's pocket to another?

Strangely, these critics claim that teachers know nothing of other professions, yet they somehow seem to know everything about the teaching profession.

I was involved in teaching for well over forty years, but I also worked at various times as a telegram boy, a fibrous plasterer, a ceiling fixer, a cost clerk for a British oil company, a liaison officer between the Education Department and five autonomous teachers’ colleges, an education consultant, a shed hand at a poultry auction, General Manager of a very successful country football team, Editor of a country newspaper and a bar tender in a yacht club on Toronto Island in Lake Ontario. This latter job was by far the most lucrative job I ever had.

Many of my colleagues in education could relate similar work experiences.

Before I started teaching, I did my National Service in the Royal Australian Artillery. On discharge, I was a fit as I have ever been in my life. Four days later I started teaching 54 Grade Four children at Bunbury Central School. After three days in charge of the class I was physically and mentally exhausted. My landlady had to come and wake me up to come to the dining table.

In my various non-teaching jobs, I never experienced the mentally and emotionally draining effect that teaching has on one. Research shows that decision making causes stress, especially when your decisions affect other people. Research also shows that teachers need to make decisions about once every five seconds.

After experiencing a wide variety of occupations, I can assure those outspoken critics that teaching is physically, emotionally and spiritually draining. It can also be emotionally and spiritually rewarding.

The challenge for the future is to attract good teachers into teaching.

This will not happen while teaching largely remains an undervalued and thankless task.

It will not happen while people think teachers are not part of “the real world”.

It will not happen until the people and the politicians who think teachers are underworked and overpaid get real about education.

Teacher have a most important and vital role in our society.. They are producing the next generation of Australians.

Lee Iacocco, the famed industrial engineer and management guru who revitalised the flagging US motor Industry in the 1960s, once said In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.

Actually, now that I think about it, six million dollars does sound about right.