For everyone FUNdamentals

Two emails arrived in my inbox after Victoria went back into the ‘circuit breaker’ that was our fourth lockdown. One was from my principal re-sending our remote learning handbook, and the next was from the professional podcaster who had been working with one of my classes as part of the Creative Workers in Schools program. He asked what lockdown meant for the visiting guest interviewees they’d lined up. I forwarded him the first email, told him to reschedule what he could, and to set low expectations for what could be achieved. Nothing about remote learning is fun. 

When I picked up my kids from school, my 12-year-old son was in complete agreement. He was meant to go on a bike education excursion the next day and now it was cancelled. But my six-year-old ran to us with a face-splitting grin, overjoyed at the good news of another lockdown. Bless her naïve heart, I thought; she is too young to remember the trauma of last year. 

Over dinner, however, my daughter fleshed out the details of her optimism with three arguments (counted on serious fingers) that made me reconsider:

1. We played more games, did more craft and cooked more cakes. 

2. We went to parks more and went for more walks outside and in the garden. 

3. Mornings were better: no yelling about being late because of missing socks.

From her point of view, lockdowns were fun. It’s hard to admit this in polite company (let alone a staff meeting), if for no other reason than the offence it would cause those who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19, but I think many of us secretly agree. Just look at how many teachers, when faced with the prospect of returning to normal, choose to leave the profession instead. It is a crisis that perhaps only the logic of a six-year-old can help solve.

We’ll start with her first point. Like all families in lockdown, we quickly learned that paint, glue, cardboard and cornflour all provide hours of fun, and nothing smells better than fresh banana bread. But in schools we cordon off such messy work to subjects fewer students are selecting because they don’t lead to ‘real’ jobs or to university courses they can afford.

Even when professional bodies such as VCAA and ACARA tell us how important general capabilities like critical and creative thinking are for students, the department completely ignores them as aspects of our profession. ‘Being creative’ isn’t listed as a High Impact Teaching Strategy and ‘having fun’ won’t be found on any success criteria or differentiated unit plan. Indeed, some students only get to work with a creative adult now through programs like Creative Workers in Schools.

There are now so many barriers restricting how spontaneous teaching can be we run the risk of becoming automatons in a joyless machine.

Which brings me to my daughter’s second point – we all need to get out more. One of the reasons excursions are fun for students is because they get to see what their teachers are like beyond the restrictions of our classrooms. But planning an excursion has gone from a bureaucratic headache to a Kafkaesque nightmare of purchase orders, permission protocols, transportation coordination, behaviour plans and curriculum justifications. All this means that some schools now need more than a term’s notice to even consider one. Add the current COVID restrictions and you can see why many teachers don’t bother with them at all anymore.

This leads to my daughter’s last point: time. Our timetables are getting broken into smaller sessions that, with the help of micro-managed unit plans, efficiently squeeze the most out of every day. There are now so many barriers restricting how spontaneous teaching can be that we run the risk of becoming automatons in a joyless machine. Don’t even get me started on meeting protocols.

Now we’re between lockdowns here in Victoria and, for now, things are looking up. My son starts Bike Ed next week, and the podcast class have re-booked their guest interviews. But I just received another email reminding me that my PD plan needs updating and there is no place on it to list any creative goals or to reflect on how much more fun I wish teaching was. And I don’t mean ‘dress up days’ or anything so trite. Teaching can be fun again when school leaders reduce the meaningless meetings, boring bureaucracy and prescriptive pedagogy that prevent it.

I’m still not sure what to do about the missing socks, though.

The Youth Vote Podcast

As part of the Creative Workers in Schools program, Travis’s class has been working with a professional podcaster to produce their own podcast series.

You can listen to the first episode – an interview with YA author Will Kostakis hosted by Maya Kuspisz and Sholto Marti – at theyouthvote.com.au or on Spotify.

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