Posts Tagged ‘Columns’

The Cost of Sedating Our Boys

February 20, 2011

I recently came across an interesting opinion piece by Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to connect the lack of representation of male teachers to the number of boys on Ritalin, some of her points do resonate.  There is no doubt that Ritalin does have a place, but with the numbers of children (boys in particular) taking the drug climbing markedly from year to year, it is more than fair to raise some strong concerns.  Ms. Farrelly certainly does just that:

The Ritalin wars are usually treated as just another tussle between the pharmaceutical companies and the rest, but is there something else going on here as well? Is it part of a more generalised, covert war on boyhood? //

Thirty years ago Australian primary schools employed five male teachers for every four females. By 2006 there was one male teacher for every four females. This overwhelming feminisation of primary education, and of culture generally, has made boy-type behaviour stuff to frown upon. Are we in danger of seeing boyhood itself as a disorder?

When Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness, quoted a psychoanalyst saying “We used to have a word for sufferers of ADHD; we called them boys”, he probably did not expect it to become the most famous line of his book.

What was once introversion is now “avoidant personality disorder”, nervousness is “social anxiety disorder” (SAD) or dating anxiety disorder (DAD) and so on. It’s not that these disorders don’t exist, says Lane, a Guggenheim fellow studying the ethics of psychopharmacology, but that our definitions are so broad that the entire mysterious subconscious is reduced to chemical balance, and any deviation looks like disease.

Why, he asks, is ADHD so commonly diagnosed in boys? Is it new behaviour? Or just a new attitude to that behaviour?

But why the gender imbalance, and why now? We know that boys tend to be late maturers anyway, but Scott concedes there are also social and perceptual factors at play. Teachers with “less structured” teaching style and “more distracting” classroom environments, he says, yield many more of his clients than their more disciplined (my word) colleagues.

Whereas ADHD girls “sit quietly in a corner”, the boys are more disruptive and more noticed, more referred, more medicated. And although much the same is true of ”normal” boys and girls, the upshot is that ”girl” is a norm to which boys are expected to strive. Scott sees it as “an unintended consequence of how society operates”.

But consequences this important should be either clearly intentional, if girlifying boys is really what we want, or remedied. Personally, I reckon the crazily creative are types we’ll need more of, rather than fewer of, in the future, even if they are male.

The above are just some snippets from this very thought-provoking opinion piece.  It has never sat well with me that such a large proportion of children taking Ritalin are boys.  Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to blame it on few male teachers, it does make you wonder whether we are getting it right.

It seems like society may be letting boys down very badly.

Natalie Munroe is No Hero!

February 18, 2011

I can’t believe the amount of support blogger Natalie Munroe is receiving after she was caught complaining about her students on a public blog.

Sure, she may not have named them when she called them “… rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”

She didn’t even use her full name.  So what did she do wrong?

When you write a blog that complains about the people you work with or for, be very careful that the secret doesn’t come out.  When a school board is presented with complaints from parents who were angry that their children were insulted online, they have no choice but to issue a suspension.  It’s a really bad look – especially from a teacher.

Ms. Munroe’s defenders say she was just telling the truth.  Firstly, she wasn’t telling the truth.  Truth applies to fact, this is opinion.  The old adage that one’s opinions is best left to one’s self certainly applies here.  The school would look ridiculous if they allowed Ms. Monroe to write what she likes and they certainly couldn’t have defended it on the basis of truth.

But many disagree with me

However, it is high time for teachers to speak up even at the loss of their jobs. United in this effort, they could turn the tables and help students achieve better educations. And they could have a better, safer, environment.

It might be noted here that she did not direct her statements to any specific student. There has been a Facebook group organized to support her.

Every classroom in America is filled with students like this, and sometimes it must be like working in a zoo. It might be an easier job than trying to reach and teach kids who could care less about school, respecting those in authority, and those who hold back other students who really want to learn.

This is not the forum for teachers to have a go at their own students.  If they disguise their comments in general statements about the nature of kids in modern society that is acceptable, but when they make judgements about the personalities and behaviours of their own students, they must accept the consequences of these revelations should they reach the parents.

My own take on this is that she made a mistake.  She is not a bad person or necessarily a bad teacher.  Whilst it’s not a good look for a teacher to be caught out venting their frustration, it happens all the time, and given the time, place and circumstance it won’t lead to suspension.  But seriously, Natalie Munroe is no hero!

An Obsession With Success Leads Tiger Mother to Failure

January 26, 2011

As a teacher, it is my policy not to judge parents on their parenting styles.  I do this for three reasons:

  1. It is rude to judge another person when you haven’t walked in their shoes.
  2. Negative judgements against parents would inevitably cause me to lose focus on my responsibilities to the child; and
  3. Parenting is extremely difficult. I know this because I am a parent.  It is so hard to find the right balance for your child.  Judging others would distract me from improvements I need to make to my own parenting skills.

But every so often you find you have no choice but to make an exception to your rule.  My exception is  Amy Chua, the so-called “Tiger Mother”.

When a person writes a book about parenting they open themselves up to public criticism.  After reading her essay in the Wall Street Journal (I will not be rushing out to buy the entire book) and finding myself cringing all the way through it, I feel that it is the right time to dismiss my “no judgements policy” and respond to her disappointing advice.

The Tiger Mother’s methods are particularly extreme. Swapping one set of extreme methods (The Western methods) for another is unworkable.  Why does everything have to be so extreme these days?  The Education System operates like this.  One day the trend will be all about Teacher Centred Learning, and when that strategy falls flat, the answer then becomes Child Centred Learning.   And back and forward we go between the two very extreme strategies.   The same applies here.  Yes, Western style parenting features some methods which leaves a lot to be desired, but the answer is not its polar opposite.

Why not find “balance?”  That’s right, neither far left or right.  Why not try to focus on what works in different styles of parenting and mould them together?  Surely that’s preferable to going in the extreme opposite direction.  In truth, extremism comes about from insecurity.  The  Tiger Mother’s methods of parenting is both extreme and riddled with insecurity.

By not letting your child go on play dates and taking part in school plays, you are preventing the child from being involved in healthy social activities.  The fact that the stereotypical Asian parents see mingling as a waste of time is very sad indeed.

Pushing a child to not only achieve, but achieve beyond the rest of the class is such a terrible goal for your child.  It forces the child to see their friends as threats and rivals instead of human beings.  It emphasises selfishness and makes it difficult for the child to relate or empathise with others.  Her policy of not letting her kids be anything less that number 1 in their class is quite distressing.

“Chinese parents believe their kids owe them everything.”  This line stunned me.  Why would kids owe their parents everything?  Because their parents sacrificed for them?  Well, what are parents for?  Would it be alright for Amy’s child to approach her and say, ”Mum, how about we make a deal?  I’ll let you enjoy life a bit, and in return, you can let me live a less restrictive existence”?

Amy’s husband is spot on when he said, “Children don’t choose their parents.”  Her response to this more than reasonable point was, “This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.”  Whilst I think that parents are owed respect and honour, in return, I believe parents owe their children love and support.  I’m not looking for a better deal than that.

Whilst I don’t agree with the Tiger Mother’s approach, I understand that there are people out there looking for strategies that will improve their parenting.  However, when she happily recounted the time she called her daughter “garbage”, I couldn’t help but worry about the effect this book was going to have on others.

Amy’s father once referred to her as “garbage”, and although upset by it, she understood where he was coming from and the point he was trying to make.  That is why she had no qualms with repeating the dose on her poor daughter.   So comfortable was she about referring to her daughter by this term, she goes on to recount how she upset people at a dinner party by frankly discussing how she called her daughter by this name.

Amy, a professor at Yale Law School, should know better.  “Garbage” refers to something that is both useless and worthless.  Calling your child useless and worthless is just not acceptable!  How can a parent be proud of calling their child by such a terrible name?  I don’t care if that type of putdown turns the kid into a Nobel Prize winning scientist, it is not acceptable.

What the Tiger Mother’s  of this world have all wrong is their definition of success.  Success isn’t outdoing people, becoming famous, obtaining wealth or becoming a prodigy.  A successful person in my opinion is somebody who lives with integrity, cares and empathises with others and uses their gifts and qualities to help improve the lives of other people.  Anyone can be successful. Receiving  an A or a C for a maths quiz is not a determining factor.

The Tiger mentality is an extreme one, that combats poor aspects of Western parenting with another equally dismal style of parenting.  What you are left with is a maths whizz that may never enjoy maths, a musical prodigy that never got to enjoy music or properly express themselves through music, a person who thinks parenting is about entitlement rather than love and who is brought up to believe that a friend is anybody that doesn’t dare perform at their level.

It’s time that we preached balance and perspective rather than extremism, we dispensed with “dog eat dog” in favour of “dog support  dog”, and motivate our children without the use of put downs.

Hijacking the Curriculum for Political Correctness

December 15, 2010

The proposal to include the traditions of other religious faiths as part of the formal school curriculum must be summarily ignored.  The curriculum does not, and has never contained any religious content before, why tamper with it now?

Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia may want more students to have awareness of Islamic festivals, but fiddling with the curriculum is not the way to go.

As someone of neither Christian nor Muslim faith, I have absolutely no problems with schools acknowledging festivals from different religions and cultures, but that doesn’t mean they have to insert them in the curriculum.  And you can’t compare Islamic festivals to Christmas, as Christmas is a holiday celebrated by non-religious as well as religious people.

It is also important to note that after finishing reading about Mr. Trad’s history and long list of controversies on his Wiki page, I am deeply concerned that a man of his reputation is allowed to represent his people, especially under the banner of a “Friendship Association of Australia.”

No More Asbestos Riddled Classrooms!

November 30, 2010



Enough is enough!  How long does it take for those in charge to take notice and become proactive?  This isn’t the 60’s!  More has to be done to ensure that teachers and students aren’t subjected to asbestos exposure.

Reading about Queensland’s problems with asbestos debris in their classrooms makes me very upset.

Education Queensland has been unable to give a statewide figure for the number of children who have their names on asbestos-related school registers, stating the information is not kept centrally.”

The department has also revealed 98 temporary closures of classrooms, playgrounds and other state school sites were recorded in about six weeks recently  comparable to the rate of closures for all of last year.

If you’re concerned like me, have no fear because Education Queensland’s acting deputy director-general Graham Atkins has come up with the worst attempt at spin one could ever imagine.

“Principals and staff have a heightened awareness about managing asbestos-containing materials,” Mr Atkins said.

“This (awareness) can account for the high number of incident alerts recently, which is always a good thing, as our staff are trained to be extra-cautious,” Mr Atkins said.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Whilst you and I might have been indifferent to Mr. Atkins’ s spin, the Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart obviously thought it was gold.

“… Norm Hart said managing asbestos risk had become a growing part of a principal’s role and recent training would be behind the incident spike.

“It is obviously frustrating that we have buildings that have asbestos in them and that we have to manage it, but we are not prepared to put safety second,” he said.

So if you are a concerned parent, rest assured, your child’s teacher and principal are experts at spotting asbestos.  Forget about teaching literacy or numeracy.  No, our teachers are trained to spot potential carcinogens in the classroom.  Feel better now?

The Courier-Mail earlier revealed Department of Education and Training staff had made more than 400 workers compensation notification claims since 2005 after potentially being exposed to asbestos.

EQ figures show 18 DET staff have had WorkCover asbestos-related claims accepted since 2002. Seven were for asbestos-related illnesses, seven were for psychological injury related to exposure and four were for possible exposure.

But it’s alright.  We have it under control.  We’ve trained our principal’s ….

Teacher Training Fails Us

November 25, 2010

It is my opinion, and I am certainly influenced by my own experience, that teachers are being let down by inadequate and highly pressured teacher training.  I believe that student teachers are not given enough exposure to practical teaching experiences and are left unprepared for the classroom upon entering the profession.

I remember how difficult it was for me to adjust to life as a teacher in the first year in particular.  On only a one-year contract, I felt I couldn’t approach colleagues for advice, because without their respect, I felt I wouldn’t earn a second contract.  Instead I had to work it out on my own, as quickly as possible, to restore the faith my school had in me when they employed me.

I found my University course high on pressure and theory, but low on substance and opportunities to observe teachers and teach classes.  I remember almost having to repeat a full year of the course because I failed an assignment for Sport.  I had to submit a series of lesson plans for Sport (not a discipline I have a passion for).  My lessons were very well-developed – except for one detail that awarded me an automatic fail.  In one of the lessons, I let the students pick the teams themselves.  Whilst I realise that I should have known better, I almost had to repeat the full year (regardless of how well I was doing in other subjects), because I failed that assignment.

That’s why I agree with the submission by Michael Grove in the UK, that plans to shift the focus of teacher training from universities to schools.

It says that “too little teacher training takes place on the job” and proposes the creation of a national network of “teaching schools” based on the model of teaching hospitals.

Mr Gove said that great teaching was a mix of academic and “emotional” intelligence, and working with children and exceptional teachers would enable trainees to grasp this fact.

So many teachers leave the profession because they found it too difficult in the early years.  Others quit during the training period because they are so worn out by assignments and hurdle requirements that have little resemblance to the realities of a classroom.

My advice to teachers in training is to hang tough, get back to the reason why you signed up for this wonderful profession and try to get through.

I feel a lot more confidant in the classroom now.  No thanks to my training though …

The Ethics Debate

November 22, 2010

For the past few years there has been much debate about the place Ethics classes have in Primary school education.  There has been resistance from religious groups on the basis that it is competing with formal RE (Religious Education lessons) for numbers and government funding.  Proponents of having ethics instruction in our government schools claim that people have a right to choose what is the best for their children, and that non-religious students are better off having an alternative program rather than just sitting out of RE and taking part in an unstructured lesson (basically consisting of free time or watching a movie) instead.

In a new law about to be passed in NSW, parents will have the right to ethics classes as an alternative to scripture in their child’s school even if the principal and the majority of the school community opposes them.

A Baulkham Hills parent, whose child participated in the trial, said: ”The majority of parents, ethics teachers and children at our school found the ethics classes an enriching complement to the many good SRE [Special Religious Education] classes on offer”.

However, many of those opposed were concerned about ethics competing with scripture classes.

”Ethics is already taught in other forums in state primary education and should not be allowed to attract students away from meaningful faith-based studies,” wrote one.

Whilst I am not opposed to have Ethics lessons taught at our schools, I would like to make the following points:

1.  I would like to see RE and Ethics material being submitted to a curriculum board for approval.  Everything taught at school must be rich, stimulating, engaging and subject to curriculum style scrutiny.

2.  Every teacher should, and most do, invest time in their day-to-day teaching, imparting ethics by teaching their students right from wrong, helping them to make healthy choices and showing them how to maximise their potential.  The idea that students without an Ethics program at their school are is some ways missing out on ethics instruction is just wrong and disrespectful to hardworking, caring teachers.

Is the RE vs Ethics debate prevalent in countries other than Australia?  What is your opinion regarding the validity of ethics instruction?

Lessons to be Learnt from the Sticky Tape Incident

November 14, 2010

I was disturbed to read of the alleged incident involving a teacher accused of sticky taping students’ mouths shut in dealing with unruly students.  Whilst I am horrified at the alleged incident, and the teacher involved, if found guilty, will get a justifiably serious penalty for her actions, I think there are other issues worth considering in relation to the case:

The report says that, “the school has been aware of previous occasions where the teacher has struggled to manage her students.” If that is the case, what was done to support this teacher?  If a teacher is struggling to deal with the management of their class, it is up to the school community to support the teacher.  When a teacher struggles to manage their class, it can have a very negative effect on their self-esteem and can make them impatient and irrational.  Whilst that in no way excuses unprofessional behaviour, it is a sign that the teacher requires some assistance and support.

Teachers, more often than not, join the profession to make a difference to the lives of their students.  They often have the best of intentions and a selfless approach to their job.  However, they soon realise that it can be a very difficult and under-valued profession.

Studies often show that teaching is among the most stressful of occupations, with difficult parents, students, school boards and staff members all factors in pushing teachers to the limit.  While I again stipulate that there is no excuse for acts of aggression against students, it is important to have structures in place that help teachers that are suffering from some of the difficulties that come with the job.


It’s About Spending Wisely

October 26, 2010

The Chief Executive of VECCI Wayne Kayler-Thomson, calls for “strategic investment in education and skills …  from primary school onwards.”

His other recommendation include:

  • Meeting the target of 90 per cent of students attaining year 12 or an equivalent;
  • Schools that achieve NAPLAN results routinely below the state average need initiatives to close the gap, such as hiring specialist teachers, retraining existing teachers or exploring alternative methods of teaching numeracy and literacy;
  • Linking teachers’ pay to student performance and rewarding outstanding teachers will help drive improvements in the classroom; and
  • Getting teachers from varied backgrounds into the classroom through a scholarship program could help address the shortage of teachers in key skill areas, as well as broadening the types of teachers that students interact with.

Nothing new here, but still food for thought.  I find the term “strategic investment” quite amusing.  It seems to infer that the money beings spent on Education is largely going to waste or at least not spent wisely.  I couldn’t agree more.

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