The transition from kindergarten to Grade 1 was traumatic. I was a popular child in kindergarten with both teachers and students but that all changed. Unlike my sister, whom the teacher had previously taught, I was an inquisitive extrovert, and we did not connect. I recall her using a metre-long ruler to assist my exit from the family car. I remember I often cried so hard that I threw up. I think back to the doctor's visit for my hair loss, which resulted in an 'unloved' short haircut. I recollect hearing my parents talk about how the school nurse recommended glasses. I thought, short hair and glasses and remember, this was long before Harry Potter made glasses cool. I'd hoped the need for glasses would explain why I was a ‘poor’ reader. And yet, I was the clever child who worked out where to position myself in the circle to read the least number of words aloud. Speaking and reading in front of a large group of people had always been a source of anxiety for me. At times, the memories of my five-year-old self-return, along with the strongly associated emotions. So, when asked who influenced me to become a teacher, I responded that it was my Grade 1 teacher but not for the typical reason.
Journeying forward to my final supervised practicum in Seattle, Washington, it was 2005. One of the first external students from the University of New England (Australia), I completed three practicums at various schools. The final supervisor had taught my son, but I didn’t know him well. What made this supervisor different was the time he spent getting to know me. When asked to read to the students, he noticed I was anxious. He made the effort and took the time to learn about me. His curiosity was reflected in his questions and from our conversations, he understood me better. With his support, in those four weeks, I transitioned from being an awkward anxious student teacher to a teacher who relished reading aloud to the students.
These two stories demonstrate the significance of taking the time to get to know the learner. Journeying forward to today; time is the greatest barrier to learning, and schools currently struggle to find sufficient time for learning. Administrative tasks, compliance demands, and unnecessary red tape consume time. If Australia wants to encourage more teachers into the field, then more support is vital. Provide coaching to those transitioning from university to the classroom. Extend this to provide coaching for at least the first two years. Expand this to provide the ‘option’ of coaching to all teachers. Coaching provides the time, place, and structure for learning and reflection. Learning starts by getting to know the learner, whether it be students, teachers, or undergraduates. Learning about the curriculum, teaching strategies and context is important, but we’ve forgotten that teaching and learning are humanistic in nature.
Education Week that stated, “Altruism and vocation is not enough anymore to attract teachers into the profession”. It is time for politicians and society to return the profession back to the teachers. Teachers need more than thanks!
My friend, Matt Esterman shared this article about the Zone of Proximal Development, and it resonated with me. We want to stretch all teachers, yet teachers can fall into the panic zone without support and time to be learners. All learners must feel appreciated, supported, cared for, and empowered but I do not see any of this for our teachers today.