In my conversations with education groups last year, I would often quip, “It is a great time to be a teacher, just maybe not the best year to be a teacher.” Public education in British Columbia — in fact, across Canada, North America and around the world — has become increasingly challenged. I am concerned about what I am beginning to hear from friends and colleagues who entered into the profession full of hope, passion, with the dream of bettering their community, but who are becoming disillusioned about teaching.
A new report presented by the Canadian Education Association and the Canadian Teachers Federation — Teaching the Way We Aspire to Teach: Now and in the Future, is a key document with a Canadian perspective on the aspirations of our teachers. With much attention paid to reports on the pivotal role teachers play, like John Hattie’s Teachers Make a Difference, it is crucial that conversations around education change (reform, transformation, or whatever word might best describe what we are currently undergoing), is not only about engaging students, but is also about engaging the passion of teachers.
The Canadian view is important, because it is easy to be influenced by some of the deeply concerning directions in some parts of the United States, and assume they are also happening here.
The 25-page report is well worth the read whether you are a student, teacher, policy maker or engaged citizen.
Three Highlights in the Research:
1) A signficant proportion of teachers have experienced teaching the way they aspire to teach, at least occasionally
2) Although teachers are able to teach the way they aspire to teach on occasion, this does not always happen on a consistent and system-wide basis
3) There was significant agreement among teachers around the personal attributes of teachers that are the most important. They are:
- passion for teaching and a commitment to students
- caring for children
- knowing their students, and
- flexibility to use one’s professional judgment and expertise to make sound pedagogical decisions in the interest of students
An important area of interest was the elements of an ideal teaching environment (click on graph below to enlarge):
While there is nothing on the list that would be stunning to any of us in the education system, in many cases, a huge financial investment in the system is not required. It was also reassuring to read that the “alienated teacher does not appear to be a common feature of education in Canada.” That said, there is no doubt we have work to do.
A quote from Sam M. Intrator (in the report) led me to reading his 2002 book Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher’s Heart. As someone who comes from a family of teachers (my mother continues to teach in the BC public education system, having started in 1968), so much of what he said resonated with me:
. . . . if schools are to be places that promote academic, social, and personal development for students, everything hinges on the presence of intelligent, passionate, caring teachers working day after day in our nation’s classrooms. Teachers have a colossal influence on what happens in our schools, because day after day, they are the ultimate decision makers and tone setters. They shape the world of the classroom by the activities they plan, the focus they attend to, and the relationships they nurture.
If we want to attract and retain intelligent, passionate, caring teachers, we had better figure out what will sustain their vitality and faith in teaching. Education depends on what teachers do in their classrooms, and what teachers do in their classrooms is shaped by who they are, what they believe, and how vital and alive they are when they step before their students.
I am saddened when I see comments from teachers that if they had it to do over, would select a different profession, or would never encourage others to follow them into teaching. And, at times, our profession is our worst enemy — we do a better job of dividing ourselves than others might — we label each other by the level we teach, our employee affiliation, the community we work in, or a variety of other markers which fragment the far more powerful unifying features we share like improving the quality of public education to increase the life chances and opportunities for the young men and women we are so fortunate to work with each day.
Hopefully this report will help stimulate some important discussions.