xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: February 2013

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Teaching as a career? Get real!

In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else. Lee Iacocca.

[Legendary American engineer, business man and management guru, Iacocca in the 1960s revitalised  the U.S.motor industry. Among many other things he engineered the iconic Ford Mustang and later on completely revitalised the Chrysler Motor Company which was facing bankruptcy]

Clearly, we do not live in a completely rational society, because the best of us are not all teachers. In fact many young people, trying to decide on their future path, see teaching as a school based job that is not part of  “The real world.” They are looking for a “grown up” job away from school.

Apparently, jobs like selling houses, cars or mobile phones, designing bridges or sitting in front of a computer and moving other people’s stocks and shares between banks is part of the real world. But not teaching, because it takes place in schools and is involved with young people.

To children of course, school is very real indeed. At school they experience the joy of achievement, the humility of defeat, comradeship, generosity, praise, pride, sorrow, anger, frustration, compassion, taunts and abuse, happiness, selfishness and aggression. And that is only half way through  morning recess.

Lee Iacocca recognised the importance of teaching. He knew that teaching was in the real world. He knew that teachers every day, in every school, everywhere, were imparting the knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes and values that society’s  next generation will need in order to lead satisfying, fulfilling and productive lives. That is why he thought that teaching really was the most important thing that anyone could do.

Every day teachers deal with twenty five or more real individuals in their classrooms. In dealing with these unique human beings, the teacher will at various times, and sometimes simultaneously, be an instructor, a guide, a counsellor, a mentor, a judge, a nurse, a psychologist, an actor, a demonstrator, a facilitator, an arbitrator, a detective, a police officer, a doctor, a social worker, a guardian, a provider, a conciliator, a motivator, a philosopher, an entertainer, an artist, a musician and a mother and father all rolled in to one.

It isn’t easy, but for anyone with a desire to nurture the next generation, to pass on the life skills that will be needed by future generations of Australians, it can be a hugely satisfying, challenging and rewarding career. All of us can recall a teacher who has  had a positive impact on our life.

Teaching is not an easy job. Teachers used to be called chalkies. These days they hardly ever use chalk, but they need to be computer literate and have enhanced Information Technology and Communication skills.

If you want to be a teacher you will need to be very literate and numerate. You must be able to gain the attention of your students and then engage them to enthusiastically follow the educational programmes that you have planned. You need to do this throughout the day, with very little time for rest and respite from the constant need to observe, instruct and make decisions about the next course of action. In order to operate effectively in class during the day you will have to  spend several hours, outside of school times, planning and preparing for your next sequence of lessons.

As a teacher you will also need to develop strong inter personal skills so that you can establish a positive rapport with your students, your colleagues and the school administration. You must be able to plan collaboratively and be part of a team. Most importantly you will need to develop strong and positive relationships with your students’ first and most important teachers, their parents. This means that you will have fifty to sixty adults taking a very close look at how you are dealing with their most precious possessions, their own children. Having that many ‘bosses’ can prove to be a daunting task. Successful teachers are highly skilled at getting parents to support them in achieving their class and school goals.

Teaching also provides opportunities for travel, because other countries are always seeking well qualified teachers. You need not confine yourself to English speaking countries such as The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland or The United State of America because China, Japan and other Asian countries are also very keen on acquiring well qualified and effective English speaking teachers.

Above all else, if you want to be a successful teacher you will need, not only high academic qualifications and well developed interpersonal skill, you will also need to be interested and passionate about your teaching. However, it is not sufficient just to like working with children. You need intellectual skills and positive personal traits to be an effective teacher.

Teaching is not for everyone. We do not want everyone. As Lee Iacocca has observed, for our country’s good, we need the best!

Is that you?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The changing role of the principal.

When teachers and principals were at their various schools preparing for the arrival of students to kick off the new school year, I was at the WACA watching a One Day International cricket match between Australia and the West Indies.
Sitting there, as the game was about to start, I felt totally relaxed, drinking in the ambience of blue skies, the verdant green field, the milling crowd, the colourfully clad cricketers and the noisy anticipation of the contest.
I have to confess that I was also happily drinking in a refreshing amber fluid as I remarked to my companion, Jim Bray, also a retired school principal, “Well, Jim, this is certainly better than getting ready for the children’s first day at school.” 
He agreed and we had a brief conversation about some of the hectic times we had  in days gone by, preparing the staff and ourselves for that busy and exciting time when all of the children turned up on the first day.
I began to think of how much schools had changed since I retired over ten years ago. I felt that principals, many now in charge of Independent Public Schools, would probably be involved in vastly different tasks from those to which I had applied myself.
This in turn led me to think about a speech I had given at a WAPPA Dinner in March, 2000, on the theme of  “The Changing Role of the Principal.”
As usual, I actually spoke about several things during my speech, but here is the bit about the principal’s changing role...
***  ***   ***   ***
"As for the changing role of the principal, well I am sure that we will all agree that our roles have changed. We spend less time in our schools with the children and more time out of our schools at meetings, workshops and seminars. At schools we now spend a lot of our time filling in accountability documents. A paper barrier has come down.
I remember on one occasion spending some hours completing an accountability document about what activities I was involved in at the school. At the end of the document, just above my signature, I wrote, “At least this is at I would be doing if I was not so busy filling in accountability documents about what I would be doing if I was not so busy filling in accountability documents.”
Once, as principals, we knew what each class was learning each week of each month of each year. We read through teachers’ monthly Programmes of Work and knew what each teacher was teaching each week of each month of each year. Now we don’t. Unfortunately, neither do some of the teachers.
However, I do not think our roles have changed as much as Registrars’. The old school secretary used to answer the telephone, greet visitors, type a few letters for the principal, count the bus money every now and again, do a bit of duplicating and make sure copies of the newsletter went to each class for distribution. 
Their role is vastly different now. They need computer skills for a whole range of school based activities as well data processing skills for jobs that were once conducted in head office relating to leave of absence, long service leave, relief teaching and so on.
They now also manage the finacial bookwork, keep the school’s accounts in order and do the banking for what have become quite substantial financial enterprises.
I remember that soon after I first became  Primary Principal  at Donnybrook District High School in 1975, I went to an In-Service Course in Bunbury.There I met Geoff Baker, an outstanding educator, who said to me, ‘Noel, if ever  you arrive at your school and find that the secretary is not coming in because of sickness, or some other reason, then get in your car and drive home straight away. Otherwise, you will have people coming up all day asking where things are or how things work and when things happen....and you won’t know...and you’re the principal!'
But it is true; the principals’ role has changed. Last week I was at a Perth District Principals’ Conference. We were in groups and we were asked to list the barriers that stop principals from achieving their goals and what solutions there may be to overcome these barriers.Someone said one of the problems could be that a principal may have reached his or her level of incompetence. I don’t know why she stared straight at me as she said this.
Reaching your level of incompetence is called the Peter Principle, after Professor Peter who said that in structured organisations people gain promotion until eventually some are promoted to a level where they are incompetent.
I thought, well, maybe so, but Edward De Bono, the great lateral thinker, says that the good leader should do nothing. All of the work in the organisation should be delegated to others. Now I really like that one.
The other Peter Principle is that the higher up the structure you are, the less immediately your absence will be noticed.
For instance, a principal in a reasonably sized school could be away from the school for several days but the school will carry on and most staff or students will not be aware of the absence.
On the other hand if the cleaner is away, the doors are locked, the toilets are not open, the bins are full and everyone knows straight awaythat the cleaner is not at school.
So maybe our future role as principals will be to do nothing and stay away from school for longer and longer periods. It would become In Service training for retirement!
In my case, at Doubleview Primary School, I have taken De Bono at his word and tried very hard to get everybody else to do the work.
The other day, Jeff, the Curriculum Development Officer from the District Office telephoned and wanted to make an appointment to see me. (I can hear a lot of present day principals murmuring, “What is a Curriculum Officer?”  Some may even be wondering what a District Office is and whatit has to do with school operations?)
Anyhow, I told Jeff, “Come in whenever you like. I’ll be in the office. I’m the principal. I don’t do anything. Just call in”
He said, “Noel, you can’t be serious? You must do something. You must have to make some decisions.”
“You’re right, Jeff. Each day the biggest decision I have to make is to decide what I am going to eat for lunch and then I have to tell the lady in the canteen before 9-30 am. Talk about pressure.”
Afterwards I thought about this. What would De Bono do? Why should I have to make this daily decision? I mean, when I go to friend’s place for dinner they don’t come to the table with a pen and paper and ask me what I’d like to eat. They bring out the food and I eat it. Same thing at weddings. The waiter doesn’t ask me what I would like. The food arrives and I eat it.
Next morning I went to the canteen. I said to the Canteen Manager, “Sharon, from now on for my lunch I want to have either a ham and salad roll, a tuna and salad roll or a chicken and salad roll. I want it to be a wholemeal roll with no butter. I want to have all three types at least once a week but I do not want to eat the same type of roll two days in a row.”
Now my lunchtime is an adventure into the unknown. I sit down in the staff room and open my mystery lunch. The staff look on. All we know is that if I had chicken and salad yesterday I won’t be having chicken today. It might be tuna. It might be ham. But it won’t be my decision. Edward De bono would be very pleased.
And of course it has focussed staff attention much more fully on the changing ROLL of the principal.”

Developing a love of reading.

A new school year has begun. The government says we need to improve our education standards to rank among the top nations of the world.
To do this we need to ensure that our children acquire good reading skills, because reading is the key to knowledge.
Just as a building needs a solid foundation, we need to ensure that our children's education also has a sound foundation.The early years of schooling are of primary importance.
It is absolutely essential that our children have a successful beginning to their thirteen years of schooling from Pre Primary through to Year Twelve.
It has been said that we should expect children to begin their schooling possessing three important qualities.

·        Good manners
·        A sense of honesty
·        A love of language and stories.

These three things can be provided by the poorest home in the country. They cannot be guaranteed by the richest school.
We can only hope that all parents will teach their children good manners and a sense of honesty well before they reach Pre Primary, but just how do parents develop in their children a love of literature?

Before School: Parents should introduce their children to books and stories when they are still babies.
This is a time when they depend on adults to read to them and tell them stories. Parents should take every opportunity to read to their children. Not only from books. Read street signs, shop signs, labels on food packets, signs on doors and windows. While there should be no attempt at direct instruction, some children will begin to recognise words and know that they convey a message.
Borrowing books from the local library could also be started in the Pre-School years.
They should also have some treasured books of their own.

Beginning Readers: Direct reading instruction begins when children commence formal language work at school at ages 5 to 7 years.
Children will still appreciate reading and hearing stories that were read to them in their pre-school days.
Visits to the local library should now be an eagerly awaited highlight of each week.

Independent Readers: By the middle years of primary school most children find they can read without any assistance. This happens at about 8 years for some children and around 10 years for others.
Children at this stage can now be encouraged to read short story books. This gives them a sense of achievement and the confidence and desire to read longer novels later on.
However, they will still enjoy reading "younger" material. This helps them relax and gain reassurance and reading power with pleasant and familiar materials.
Obviously library visits are now of great importance and some children may be choosing books at quite an advanced level.

Reading Extension: Once children’s reading skills have become so natural that they are unaware of the actual reading process they will tackle anything ... as long as it interests them.
Difficulty now is with the CONTENT and CONCEPTS rather than the act of reading itself.
This is the critical stage.
Now that they can read, children need books that are interesting so that they become readers by choice. It is essential that they be kept interested in reading so that they will become lifetime readers.
Many will still want to read easier material and this should not be discouraged as it is a valuable means of relaxing.
A child’s ability to read often depends on the quality of the language experiences she or he has enjoyed at home before commencing school.
A home where language is used correctly, where people love words and stories, where tales are read and re-read, where parents provide positive models for interesting speech and are seen as writers and readers who expect their children to do likewise, provides very fertile soil indeed in which our young readers can bloom and grow.      
In the 1980s the then British Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, established a committee to investigate the teaching of reading and other aspects of developing language skills in British schools.
The committee eventually compiled a massive report entitled, “A Language For Life” which was widely acclaimed for its insights into the teaching of English.
One of the committee's considerations concerned the question of how children could best be introduced to the very complex process known as reading.
On this vital issue the report concluded.

            “It has been said that the best way to prepare the very young child for reading is to hold her on your lap and read aloud the stories she likes to hear, over and over again.
            The printed pages, the physical comfort and security, the reassuring voice, the fascination of the story: All these combine in the child’s mind to identify books as something which hold great pleasure.
            This is the most valuable piece of advice that a parent can be given.”

The love of reading of Australian children would rise dramatically ..... as would their level of learning .... if we could persuade all parents to follow this good advice and to read to their children regularly from the earliest age.