Professional standards?

As a parent, I spent more than just a few moments over the Christmas break wondering how my son was going to transition into his first year at secondary school this year. So far so good! This evening he came home and without prompting, secreted himself in his room to complete a homework task for his Spanish Language class – which he then proceeded to show his mother and invite feedback!! I may sound surprised, but you have to understand that in his previous two years at intermediate school this sort of thing had never happened. Evidently his Spanish teacher has captured his interest and inspired him to learn, and he thinks Spanish is pretty cool now. Seems this is his experience across all his subjects. So far so good 🙂

So with this being the experience in my household, I was somewhat taken aback to read an email that arrived from a friend of mine about an hour ago, describing the experience of her 13 year old daughter starting secondary school. The email is copied here in its entirety with her permission:

So….. my daughter has started with excitement and nervousness at High School! 13 years old, keen and eager to learn… 2 periods of health over the last 4 days = 5 pages of written RULES copied from an overhead projector.

The learning intention is “become familiar with health class routines.”
Success Criteria – “completed all overheads” – thereafter follows the 5 pages with headlines such as:

  • Be prepared
  • Get ready fast
  • Be quiet
  • Behave

Followed by more paragraphs on what will happen if these basic expectations aren’t met.

  • Not prepared  – “copy out the lack of equipment essay in your own from from the window in C4 and hand to your teacher at the end of the next lunchtime. NO equipment will be loaned to students.”
  • Not quiet -” copy the talkative behaviour essay in your own time from the window in C4 blah blah blah blah…”

As you can imagine this is only part of it!

What is a parent to do????????? Where are all those incredible 21st century teachers and learners hiding?????

Any words of wisdom on how to approach this in a professional manner??? LOL

My heart goes out to her. As a parent it is soul destroying to see your kids not enjoying school and turned off learning. As an educator it is downright concerning that this sort of behaviour is still tolerated in our schools.

And here is the problem. In our schooling system we have teachers both good and bad. We have schools that are both good and bad. Problem is, too often the whole system gets tainted by the bad, and the good gets overlooked or forgotten. We’re lulled into believing that the whole system is  characterised by the sort of teacher my friend’s daughter has encountered.

So – what is the solution. While I may find it easy to go to my son’s teacher and provide positive feedback and offer some sincere thanks for the impact she is having, what would I do in my friend’s case? What is the appropriate response when such an experience may well shape her impression of secondary school and influence her participation for the next five years?

I, like my friend, would be interested in your responses.

10 thoughts on “Professional standards?

  1. One thing I wouldn’t do is accept it. To do so would be giving tacit approval. These might be some of the things I might try:
    1) Make an appointment to see the teacher concerned, take the actual documents that had been issued and express you concern. (I’m an advocate of going to the actual person first rather than higher up the food chain). “This is the the work you have asked the students to work on. I’m concerned about this because… My daughter is feeling….The consequences of this sort of approach could be… I’m wondering about how things might be done differently….” (open it up for negotiation and continue the dialogue until there is some agreed outcome). If there seems to be an impasse take the OHP and throw it out the window…
    2) Check out the school’s info and see what they say about learning. If the info says we intend to be a boring school, using old technology and negative language to ensure your children are not prepared for the 21st century, then they are quite congruent with their aims. If the info says something different then make a time to see the HOD or principal and ask the question – “How does this work (show the evidence) move learning forward in ways that meet the requirements of the the NZ Curriculum?” (show the relevant parts that you want to emphasise). Leave with the expectation that change will happen and a timeline for this to be addressed, them to get back to you etc
    3) Don’t give in. If all else fails email this blogpost to the principal, senior staff, teacher concerned and whoever it takes. This is about teacher mindsets…

    You’re probably thinking…yes but this might affect my daughter’s education. They might take it out on her. Saying nothing will also affect your daughter’s education. You get to choose whether to sit back and accept it or take action. And the live by the consequences. If all else fails maybe you could ask for her to be withdrawn from Health lessons because of the adverse affect on her health!

    Meanwhile I am off to send Derek’s blogpost to my social network. It’s the responsibility of all of us to say “This must stop.” There are great things happening, as Derek says. At the same time school leaders need to be accountable for the professional learning of staff so that ALL teachers are good. Maybe the school needs some compulsory work on learner voice…

  2. This makes me angry.

    I teach in primary schools with many teachers who are striving for change in THEIR practice and that of their schools. We often, though, talk with despair about the classrooms they are going into when they leave our schools. Too many intermediates and colleges are making very slow progress and we worry about how the students will cope (and I know that there are just as many that are doing great things.) BUT – why the difference?

    I like your rhetoric, Cheryl. It’s time for the excuses to stop and the level of tolerance from Principals to lesson. Parents are in a powerful position to persuade schools to change. If the community demand it, eventually it will change. One intermediate I know of has started developing a digital class because of parent pressure. It;s a start. Hopefully things will spread into authentic integration school wide.

    Let’s celebrate the great things happening from the roof tops but we should also ramp up the movement to change! Kids futures are at stake.

  3. I’ve had a long-hard think about this and the whole story makes me sad, because I think of my own son and how invested and hopeful I feel about him and his future. I‘ve had a couple of rants now and thought I’d share my mush-up of thoughts for your caring friend.

    I’m like you Derek, I also think it’s soul destroying – when you spend 13 years of your life molding, sculpting and loving your child and then trust that this nurturing will continue at school, only to realise… sometimes it is about a teacher surviving classroom management.

    I’d would go and talk to the teacher directly and ask if they had any children of their own. I would ask them what they wanted for their children to be successful in life EG: attributes, characteristics, goals, dreams etc.

    I’d tell that person what I wanted for my own son. Then I’d ask them, “how do you think we as adults can we help make this happen for our children?”

    My next question would be… to explain, “how does a bunch of thoughtless, superficial, busy, behaviorist-driven learning intentions meet those needs?”

    I understand teaching isn’t an easy job (and at the beginning of the year) and I don’t want to judge….but I can’t help wondering – if the content was appropriate and the teacher modeled some norm setting and powerful teaching strategies…. would there be a need for classroom management or copying pages of class rules?

    I’ve also told your friend this whole scenario scares me. When I eventually send my son off to school with a yearning to know more, with permission to ask questions, with a desire to be curious, inquisitive and inquiring…I’m wondering what he is going to come up against in 11 years time? 3 years time?

    I panic we are going to empower our own kids (as parents), to be thinkers, contributors – only to have let them glimpse what could have been, should be and cannot be. Maybe as parents, we are going down the wrong path – letting them know too much, only for them to discover how much out-of-control they are in their learning/schooling?

    Your friend has also shared the same concerns from other parents sharing stories of how their children are losing their creativity, their spark, their confidence to ask questions (as they are told to be quiet etc), their inquisitive thinking squashed etc etc…. She then quotes me some Guy Claxton

    Learning in the 21st Century
    Powerful learners:
    • are curious
    • have courage
    • are good at exploration and investigation
    • are experimenters
    • have imagination
    • are willing to think, analyse and evaluate
    • work collaboratively
    • are reflective.
    Guy Claxton (2008)

    I realise it’s not always easy to go from the abstract to the concrete, from the ideal to the real. Praxis ( takes time and support. This teacher needs to be mentored carefully, so that existing beliefs and practices are challenged. They need to be supported to create customised learning programmes that cater to individual needs.

    I’m also lucky, I’ve seen the good and the great teachers – only need to attend national conferences to see this in action and so my faith in the future is restored.

    I think your friend needs to approach the school as well as the teacher and have those hard conversations. It’s just too important not to!


  4. That’s appalling. As Mark said, at Primary we are all about Creativity, Innovation, Engagement and responding to the needs of the learner. We watch those fantastic videos of the 21st C learner – has Secondary not caught up with all this?

  5. As others have indicated here I would be arranging a meeting with the teacher. I definitely would not be accepting it. It doesn’t have to be a confrontational meeting at all, in fact I think it could be quite constructive.

    This resonates with me, because my son started primary school end of last year. This is his first full year so I arranged a meeting with his teacher so we could both get a feel of what we wanted for him. It was a very constructive meeting and I am now very comfortable with what will happen in the classroom. The introduction of national standards has caused me some concern. I know that a few parents are getting a bit obsessed with literacy and numeracy, but I don’t want a narrow education for my son.

    I am hoping that by the time he gets to secondary school things have continued to change, because this sort of approach is now just unacceptable.

  6. I’m going to be the cynical pragmatist on this one. And it is not for lack of empathy or understanding of your friend’s frustration cos I’ve been there, done that. In fact my first thought was “I wonder if it’s the same health teacher my eldest (29 this year) had at X school”. Way back then the form teacher rang all the parents in the first few weeks of Year 9 to see how parents thought the transition was going. I had a son who was enthusiastic and engaged with all his classes except … Health. After discussing the successes I made a tentative query about his response to Health. The gist of the reply was that the kids had to do health and they all hated it and there wasn’t much that could be done. My son was upset that I had even commented on it because it wasn’t cool to like health anyway.
    So lesson one – choose your battles, and wonderful as health could be in the hands of a good teacher – it probably aint one of them. Secondly as a parent involved in education all my children like me to know what’s going on for them at school and will ask for help if they think something needs to change but they hate, loath and detest when I start to behave differently than the average parent. So unless a child asks for help to change things don’t embarrass them by making your knowledge of quality teaching and learning too visible.
    I’ve been asked to call deans and form teachers to discuss too easy and too hard class placements in preferred subjects, to clarify issues about the impact of unplanned staffing changes on NCEA assessments, to be a support person to negotiate access to a class where not all the pre-requisites had been met. And I’ve had the same fantastic teacher who inspired one daughter’s life long passion for her subject leave the other absolutely cold – she hated it (although she valued that teacher in another subject.)
    My only just twelve year old started college this year too (Queensland has a different class placement system) which was really scary for us. He seemed too young and the system still seems unfamiliar. Also the way enrolments work here meant we had difficulty even getting a Year 8 place. We were fortunate that he was accepted in one of the oldest and smallest Catholic colleges which has a reputation for diversity and inclusiveness. I’ve been really impressed by his school – they start the day in small mixed level home rooms which along with a buddy system acts as a support structure for the new students, they run subjects/topics in blocks and will integrate subjects rather than do 40 – 60 minute classes. His English teacher’s homework assignment for the first week was “describe what a good teacher is for you”. He’s already signed up for several extra curricular activities, has made a couple of new friends and has been chattering about the speed of their new technology network which was installed over Christmas. It has been a fantastic start – and I’d be 100% happy if the book they’ve been assigned for English and his Maths homework exercises weren’t so below his level of ability. I’m telling myself that this is normal while they get a sense of where all the kids are at. And I will probably have a talk to his homeroom teacher about it.
    But the thing is – despite my not infrequent ranting at home about the shortcomings of our secondary education system and on occasion the failings of some of my children’s teachers, I have four adult children who demonstrate all those characteristics of 21st century learners. There have been times at in Year 12 and Year 13 where they have challenged the system on their own, about what was important to them (and it wasn’t always the battle I would have chosen). All of them have had powerfully inspirational teachers who I will always be grateful too. All of them have had the teachers we wish would retire gracefully.
    But in the 21st century world I work in – there are wonderful, inspirational, encouraging colleagues who are a joy to work with … and there are the others. There are great managers and dreadful managers. And while as a parent (and educator) I’d like to think all kids would always have brilliant teachers – all mine have learnt important lessons from those less than wonderful teachers about dealing with challenging situations, handling conflict, and being responsible for their own learning if the teacher wasn’t up to it.
    So in short I’d say – listen, sympathise and then ask “would you like to do something about this?” and if the answer is yes “would you like me to help you with it” and remember what it was like to be 13.

  7. Hi

    while reading what the health teacher asked the students to write, I felt sorry for the students, but also very sorry for the health teacher. It seems that she is very “scared” of being in the class, and buy asking pupils to copy out endless rules she might look for reassurance. I also felt sorry for her as it seems she herself does not enjoy being in a class environment. Poor woman, I think she is in the wrong job. If she is not herself excited about learning how can she excite our kids?? As a teacher if you like what you are doing, students will like it as well

  8. Hasn’t the health teacher decided that the easiest way to keep a comfortable (to him) class environment is to make sure that all students hate his subject? And him?

    But I’ve seen this often enough with subjects which are seen as less significant: and it isn’t the teacher who is most to blame: it is his HOD who made up this system and imposed it on his staff. They probably didn’t object though.

Leave a Reply