Teach Your Children Well

Teachers in Australia and around the world are burnt out. They’re tired of bureaucracy run amok, tired of being the punching bags for a convoluted curriculum, tired of being so bogged down in administration that they have little time for teaching. Contrast this with tertiary (education) students and early career teachers, ready to embrace the world. You know the type – the young people who believe that every child is a unique learner with unique needs, that every problem has a solution, that little Johnny, or Tai or Abdul just needs the right balance of stimulation, opportunity, socialisation and support to shine.

My daughter, armed with a sunny disposition, healthy dose of idealism and an affinity for working with children who have special needs, is one of these young people. She’s midway through the first year of a bachelor’s degree in primary education yet, I suspect, is already becoming jaded by the hyper-focus on theory and methodology and the arguably inaccessible language used to convey ideas. I wish they would just say what they mean has become a rally cry, typically exhorted when reading five-page assessment instructions that one needs an advanced degree to decipher. Why do universities often make things so much more complicated than they actually are? Is is a power thing? A desire for exclusivity and advantage? A justification for fees? And how do these translate for a young person keen to take up a primary teaching position? Should a warning label be attached?

The true legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic for schools is not yet known. But one thing is clear. Education has been disrupted across the globe, students at school one day and home the next. Not surprisingly, education benchmarks have not been met the past few years and boxes have not been ticked. But the gaps in knowledge pale in comparison to the personal fallout from the lack of on-site learning. Humans are social animals and there is no greater social animal than a child, let alone a teenager. Our children had already finished high school by the time COVID hit our shores, and I thank God for that. Because none of them found it easy to achieve in a school system that seemed to cater to left brain learners – the type who will tolerate, occasionally even enjoy, reading required texts and learning by rote. Our kids were right-brained students, drawn to music, sport and the arts – unfortunately not curriculum areas that ever garnered much attention by school administration. I’d like to meet the genius (not) who decided that STEM subjects have greater intrinsic value than all others and that ATARs and exit exams are truly indicative of a child’s intelligence, let alone their capabilities.

With seven semesters remaining, my daughter is hoping that she will soon explore the real issues at the heart of education, namely, how to build a truly healthy and inclusive learning environment; how to learn to identify students who need more than the curriculum seemingly allows; how to offer learning alternatives when mainstream methods fall short; how to excite and inspire students to embrace learning as a gateway to opportunity; how to nurture rather than quash childhood wonder and curiosity; and how to equip students to become strong, independent thinkers rather than simply fill them with facts.

All in a day’s work … if the powers that be work with teachers rather than against them.

What does this have to do with my writing?

Not much. Except that I tend to write what’s on my mind ­– issues that weigh me down until fingers sailing across the keyboard lighten the load. At least that’s the theory.

When I’m not fuming over the state of education 😉 I’m progressing my next play, an artistic exploration/extravaganza of death and dying. (After this, surely a comedy.) The Fragments web series, supported by the ACT Government and adapted from my book and stage play of the same name, will be launched in September, the culmination of an exciting, occasionally tumultuous journey riddled with challenges and delays (thank you, COVID). Although this work on youth mental health was written before COVID-19, it is more timely than ever. Plans are underway for a second edition of Fragments, this time published as narrative fiction with graphic elements. Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a fabulous young illustrator, Dhika Anjani, for my next picture book, What Will You Make Today, to be released by Storytorch Press in 2023. And I’ve just been offered a residency at the Salamanca Arts Centre in Hobart later this year. Four weeks of creativity, exploration, seclusion, travel and more.

I simply cannot wait.