Teaching is who we are, not just what we do

I was privileged enough to attend the funeral of a dear colleague of mine today. It was hard. Tony was an exceptional human being who had an impact on so many lives. His life was celebrated to his family, friends, colleagues, and former students – with his love of mathematics, learning, compassionately serving his community, seeing students succeed and being an all-round good bloke to boot was evident through every tear shed, every laugh shared, and every quiet moment of contemplation. Tony was the epitome of a life-long learner, a leader, and a kaiako.

Everyone spoke about Tony as a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be more than just a “teacher”. I’m many other things: a mum, a friend, a wife, a shoe collector, a wannabe snowboarder, a part-time tap dancer. I have always believed that we are the sum of our parts. Yet for many of us, teaching takes up so much of our time, our energy. Our families listen as we talk teaching, think teaching, talk about our students etc. It keeps us awake at night on occasion. We worry about students and staff – their well-being, their learning, about whether we are doing enough to make a difference. We want a life outside of teaching. Bring on the holidays so I can be my real me.

Yet, I wonder if we sometimes fight too much. We entered this profession knowing what it was all about. Teachers who are passionate about others, about learning, about the subjects they teach which get their blood pumping, therefore they should be proud to be teachers all of the time. I was simply overwhelmed at points today reflecting on this gem of a human being who is no longer with us. I loved how he shared his love of new things (he was prone to sharing new learnings with others all the time – he taught me about the power of crtl T, among other things), instilled a love of problem solving in thousands of students over a 48 year career, tried to teach this classics and drama teacher about the importance of problem solving when timetabling (my non-logical thinking struggled at times!), and treated ever person he encountered as a friend.

Today was testament to a true teacher – it was amazing seeing how many people were there to acknowledge a life spent in the classroom. I have reflected deeply on both this wonderful man and my perceptions of myself. What is wrong with being a “teacher” as part of our definitions of ourselves? I am a teacher. I love teaching. I am a learner too. Teaching is about connecting with other souls and working together to learn more. Tony’s journey as a teacher was also a journey as a learner.

I’m not really sure what the point of this blog post is. To reflect. To ponder. To share my pride in being a teacher and to challenge others to consider the impact of what they do every day without getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of the industry.

I am proud to have taught with this man. I hope that I can live up to the example he lived, breathed, and taught to others.

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Lessons learnt

We’ve been really fortunate in setting up our new school to be able to visit so many amazing schools. I think for me, the biggest revelation educationally has been the visits to our contributing primary schools. Not only are we fortunate to be based in a primary school at the moment, but we are also connecting with students and teachers in the other primary schools which will feed into Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

I feel embarrassed to say that I continue to be blown away by primary schools.

The students are so engaged, the learning is visible and celebrated. I am more and more convinced that all secondary school teachers should connect with primary, and probably tertiary as well. The more we know about each stage of education in New Zealand, the more we can share pedagogy, innovation and best practice.

I have been known in the past to fall into the secondary school teacher mindset thinking that the ‘real’ learning happened at secondary school. My thinking was turned around when I embarked on my Masters in Education a few years ago where I was the only secondary teacher in one of my papers. The ease with which these amazing teachers were able to draw on a range of research and practitioner based evidence to support their ideas humbled and inspired me, I have never made so many notes of things to go and look up in any other academic setting.

I guess that this started me thinking about my own preparation for education in New Zealand. Like most New Zealand trained secondary teachers, I completed my Diploma in Education over a year, straight after finishing my degree. It was intense. I really enjoyed it and I can say I learnt a lot. However, a few terms into my first year I was convinced that I had learnt nothing, I was ill prepared and the job as a shoe salesperson was still an option.  Further into my teaching career, this abated but I still feel that I have only scratched the surface in terms of what I should know or could know.

Therefore, another lesson I have learned in the last few weeks at Hobsonville Point Secondary School is the importance of reading. This was not new to me; I came from a school where big decisions were always based on sound research and as a professional learning leader, HOD and recently completed Masters student, I did my fair share. I think for me the lesson is that all teachers need time to read. I have really enjoyed the academic and professional reading that we are currently doing. I like to approach things in a robust manner and make notes to collect my thoughts as I go. These are here in case anyone ever wants to look at them.

The biggest difference over the last few weeks has been time. I harp on about it all the time. Time is my nemesis. I like to be busy and have occasionally struggled with the lack of frenzy (which is a usual lament of teachers in term 3).  The time to read, to think, to ponder, to plot and to plan has been invaluable and for me, has made this the most enjoyable term three of my teaching career. The difference is that what I am reading is so relevant to the here and now, it has immediate practical ramifications and sings to my soul in terms of the vision of the school. However, the luxury is that there is no need to processed and pondered by a set deadline. We have the must-do readings, the should dos and the could dos. If something sparks an interest, that is where you should mosey academically.

If I have learned anything in the last few weeks, it is this:

1. all teachers should have the option to do what we are doing. A sabbatical term to reinvigorate your practice would have so many potential spin-offs for students in New Zealand. I know that these are options for long-serving teachers but a school based sabbatical could be the way to go.

2. Secondary teachers should engage with their primary counterparts. Be humble. Observe and listen – there is a lot of learning to do here.

3. Read. Read widely and often. Read a variety of texts, from very academic tomes to Ministry of Education publications (these are actually really good)

4. Use teacher PD time effectively – talk about education, link to research where possible, talk and talk some more. When you’re sick of talking, listen.

Dali’s Persistence of Memory