Some challenges in education (part 1)

How clear is the road ahead? Photo by Felix

If you’ve been following educators on Twitter, reading their blogs, or simply watching some of the TED talks about education, you’ve probably noticed that most educators feel that a reform is more than needed in the current educational system. Some actually believe that it’s beyond any possible tweaking, and that a revolution is needed in order to ensure that education fulfills its role – helping learners prepare for their future, enabling them to be able to respond to the conditions that will be imposed on them in their lives. The fact that teachers are preparing learners for a future we have got no idea what it’s going to look like seems to be well-established for most. After all, things have been changing so fast that it’s only fair to believe that jobs in 5 years’ time will be a lot different from jobs we have today. It’s actually a pretty reasonable thought that is supported with data. But, what exactly are the challenges we’ve got to face? Are teachers able to fight the status quo and make the necessary changes in time, or will we be powerless when dealing with the people in charge and all the current paradigms that rule the current educational system? I’ve been thinking about a couple of things that I’d like to share, and I’d love to hear your comments on the matter as well.

Challenge 1 – How do we get at least some students interested in becoming teachers instead of engineers, lawyers, doctors or diplomats when they themselves grow up in a world that doesn’t value teachers?

I guess I should first make it clear that I’m an educator in Brazil, and the reality of education here may be different from the reality of other countries. When I think about the value of education I can’t help but thinking that things seem to be really upside down. If we understand that education is probably the most important thing in a person’s life, how come we look down on teachers so much? Most teachers in public schools in Brazil earn, in average, from U$ 400 to U$ 900 per month to work 40 hours a week. If you work in private schools or in large metropolitan areas, you can make some more money, say, something around U$ 1800 a month. Salaries do vary a lot in Brazil (which makes it really hard for me when writing these values), but if you think that a university professor with a PhD starts working, in a federal university, earning something about U$4500 per month (minus taxes), and that there are lots of public examinations you can sit to become a civil servant, for which all you need is a high school degree, that might pay as much as this, but you’ll only have to work 30 hours a week, without worrying about correcting tests or doing anything at home, just guess what most students will choose to do?

I’ve written a post in which I said I was really worried about who was going to teach our children and grandchildren, and I can’t say I can picture a bright future there. Unfortunately, very few, but I mean, very few students actually want to be teachers. Teachers are not exactly respected by the majority of the population, and the profession is already seen as something that won’t exactly allow someone to support a family.How could anyone blame kids, then, when they choose to do anything else but become teachers? No matter how good educators these days are, they’ll eventually retire, and the number of people who are actually following a passion and teaching because they know they can make a difference will be lower and lower. We’re likely to see more and more people who see education as mere transmission of knowledge taking centre stage. And here’s when it gets thorny – if you don’t have a good teacher, chances are you won’t be a good professional. It’s some sort of a vicious circle, isn’t it?

Challenge 2 – How do we get teachers to understand that the world has indeed changed, and that our educational system has got to follow suit?

We still educate our kids in batches, as Sir Ken Robinson says. In an ever changing world, schools are still preparing students to follow orders and listen quietly what they’re told. I truly believe there’s a huge gulf between questioning and being disrespectful, but we’re not teaching this to our kids. Instead, we teach them that if they question authority, they’re being disrespectful. If they grow up in such a setting, chances are they will see questioning as challenging when they become the ones in charge. Schools are still, mostly, organised in orderly rows – a seating arrangement that inhibits sharing and collaboration. What’s funny about this is that most jobs these days (already) ask for people who know how to work in teams and collaborate. The idea of being a genius and only being able to work alone is, fortunately, off the table these days in many companies.

Most teachers still can’t deal with such changes due to lack of teacher training, or even because they’re not allowed to make such changes in their schools. Some like saying that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, but we all know there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Anyway, teachers and principals need to fully understand that changing is not abandoning everything that’s worked for them when they were learners. These changes are only natural and they will take place sooner or later. Why should we hold them back instead of accelerating them? However, teacher training and development is necessary. If you’re into blogs and twitter and, again, follow lots of teachers, you’ll remember how often these teachers who are online “complain” that there are (lots of ???) teachers who work with them who simply couldn’t care less about innovating teaching? I still choose to believe this happens because changing is hard, and most teachers aren’t given the necessary tools in order to bring their teaching to the next level.

Challenge 3 – How can we assess our learners in a way that’s both practical, effective, and fair?

I’ll leave challenge three for the next post. Too many things to say about it. In the meantime, if you feel like it, you can read what I’ve already written about assessment here and a post about teaching here.

Other blogs of interest on this matter:

And, obviously, all the other blogs on their blogroll.

7 thoughts on “Some challenges in education (part 1)

  1. Dear Henrick,

    I really like your idea of sharing such thoughts on education online. You have done a phenomenal job with this blog, providing us readers with “some thinking.”

    As for the challenges, I do believe most of what we see in our field reflects not only the current societal challenges resultant of preconceived values, but also the ones that were imposed to us educators once entering the workforce.
    For those of us who still strive to deliver quality lessons to promote not only social, but academic growth to our students, teaching is more than a paycheck. I remember taking money out of my pocket to provide my students with things that I assumed they had prior to coming to my class. Most peers wince and cringed to the idea of purchasing school items to students using their own money. I even heard things such as, “If we are to buy anything for these kids, the administration has to provide us the funds to do so. I will never take any penny out of my pocket to do such a thing!”

    Anyway, if you are an individual who believes that education can still change the current world scenario we live in, and you opted to become one of the many who are willing to strive to make a difference in the lives of those who are and will become the leaders of tomorrow, welcome to the team; you are truly an educator, no matter what content area you teach.
    However, if you are the type of individual who worked abroad at a fast-food restaurant for a month and think you know some English to enter a classroom solely because teaching provides you with a slightly better paycheck, well, do something other than that. You do not belong in the classroom.
    Innate teachers may come from different walks of life, but they are not aiming at earning that paycheck. They see beyond their classroom walls; they promote social opportunities of growth without wanting something in return for their job. The results of their practices will reflect in the lives of the individuals they teach. How many of us feel proud of our students achievement? I do! I love seeing how far my pupils have come.

    Being a teacher is much more than entering a classroom; much more than having a degree; much more than simply attending conferences just for the sake of collecting certificates of attendance/participation. The innateness of being a teacher derives from a desire of doing better than their best (worst) teacher you once did (didn’t do); of providing students with a future they had never thought of before entering your classroom; of sharing your values and life experiences through the content you teach in order to promote not only academic, but also life skills.

    We, often times, take for granted that all of our students have all the necessary tools to succeed simply because of their background. Some may say, “Come on, that student’s dad earns lots of money. She has everything she wants.” (Maybe not!) Maybe the only paternal figure that child will ever have is you. Teachers tend to spend more time with students than their students’ parents actually do.

    Thus, being an educator goes beyond institutions, paychecks, and classroom walls. It is gift given to a select group of individuals who care and who are willing to spend hours dedicating their lives to educate students; who use their creativity to engage, and incorporate tools to better serve each student in their classroom; who look for the most current research-based resources to intervene and make each child’s learning experience memorable; who overcome all their inner challenges in order to deliver their best in each lesson despite of extraneous factors that, often times, may make them think, “What am I doing here?” Who are always willing to learn something new and share it with their peers and students; who knows that in every area they teach, there is room for improvement.

    Teaching is my life therefore I live it.

    Thanks again for providing us with such insightful posts. Wish I had more time to comment on them.

    Have a wonderful week and keep up with the great job!


    Wallace Barboza
    ESOL Teacher
    A.T. Allen Elementary School

    1. Dear Wallace,

      I can’t thank you enough for your words on this comment. Words of encouragement and also words of wisdom. There’s absolutely nothing that I could add to your comments. I really hope more educators take the time to read them. 🙂

      Many thanks!! 🙂

  2. Thanks very much for your visionary thought, indeed it is important for teachers to give their best to students in order to prepare them for the challenges ahead. For this to be successfully achieved, teachers themselves should be given the appropriate training to carry out their duties effectively. In addition, governments should thoroughly give apple consideration to education when preparing their budget. If this done, the right environment would be created in terms lucrative salaries for teachers as well as provision of the right facilities required to meet the ever changing challenges. When this is the case, we would have no need to worry about whom will take the mantle of teaching generation yet unborn; because students will be highly motivated to choose to become teachers.

    1. I hope you’re right and that in the future more people are willing to follow in the footsteps of their teachers. This would only bring benefits to all! Let’s, first, hope governments will start doing their share, right?
      Many thanks for commenting! 🙂

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