Verity Johnson: Exporting expert teachers weakens learning experience

Education reform may be well-meaning but there’s a risk in fracturing student-teacher relationships

The potential for a good student-teacher bond is significantly reduced with the reforms. Photo / Thinkstock
The potential for a good student-teacher bond is significantly reduced with the reforms. Photo / Thinkstock

Don't you love being patronising to people who are slightly younger than you?

It serves them right for being so young, shiny and goddamn active. Right now, I'm getting increasing pleasure from snorting at high school students.

The squealing! The scampering! The shrieking! They weren't like that in my day.

However, that day was only 18 months ago, and I'm pretty sure I was just as insufferable. After all I was a Serious Poet. Hark. I was insufferable because I hated school. But now I'm at uni, I do miss my teachers ...

Teachers are a hot topic this week. You'll probably have floated along on the new current of educational reforms. Deputy education secretary Graham Stoop is touring the country, hashing out details and questions.

The reforms he's announcing are under way and set to be fully implemented by 2017.

He was on National Radio on Monday outlining the process.

New roles will be created, one of which, the expert teacher, will be a position where the teacher is exported to other local schools for two days a week, to improve local teachers' performances.

If your child Amy is being taught by Mr Buckles, who is an expert teacher, that means Amy has a different teacher for two days a week. Mr Stoop admitted that this different teacher is decided entirely by the school. So really the school can give Amy randomly changing supply teachers on a weekly basis.

Why is this an issue? Well, if you only have history four days a week, then for two of those days your teacher might not be there. That means half the time you'll have supply teachers.

It's not great for lesson consistency or supply teachers (who at best are treated with dismissive indifference). But the worst part is that the potential for a good student-teacher bond is significantly reduced.

It's a relationship which depends on frequent and focused interaction, which the reforms significantly reduce.

Obviously, if a teacher's not there two out of four periods, it reduces the frequency of interaction with students. Students now also have a changing bunch of random teachers subbing in for Mr Buckles. So instead of a highly focused one-to-one relationship, multiple, weaker relationships get formed.

And we've got to remember the broader proposed changes.

The reforms work on the basis that soon teaching will be in open, technology-infused spaces. There will be multiple student groups and teachers, with a focus on students swapping ideas and working collaboratively.

Nothing puts the fear of God in me like group work. You know the jungle code. Group work is when the smart kid asks feebly for ideas, sighs, writes the assignment and listens to everyone else talk about sex.

Even if group work was effective, it's undeniably diluting the current one teacher-one student relationship that can develop under the status quo.

Students probably could learn effectively more independently. But, as two of my favourite ex-teachers pointed out, would you want to? The student-teacher relationship is what makes learning interesting.

Having a regular, dynamic and challenging relationship with someone intelligent is what I miss most now that I'm in university.

Even in tutorials, I never have the relationship with my tutors I had with my teachers. I'd be surprised if any out of the 12 tutors I've had in two years knew my name. It's not just fun to regularly talk to someone experienced and intelligent. Have you tried flirting with them? I've never got a better lesson in how to make an arse of myself. Seriously though, teachers are also incredible sources of inspiration.

I would not be writing this if it wasn't for my middle school English teacher. When teachers care about their kids, students want to achieve because they want to impress them. Who wants to impress an iPad?

Student-teacher relationships are incredible dynamics. We don't want to threaten them.

The current system allows for teacher development without fracturing the relationship. As one of my wisest ex-teachers told me, teacher development definitely does happen currently. It's just self-motivated, teachers find teachers who impress them and ask for help.

But even if the current system has flaws, then there must be alternatives that don't shatter valuable student relationships.

So yeah, students might be able to learn without a strong relationship. But it threatens the heart of teaching, where students meet adults who can, often unknowingly, restore their faith in humanity and the possibilities of the world.

- NZ Herald

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