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Inside Teaching : April 2010
Inside Teaching | April 2010 20 QUESTIONS 34 Obviously teaching is a very difficult job. What can be done to make sure our teachers are the best? I select my staff mainly by looking for those who’ve achieved success beyond just teaching. They should have travelled, have an adventurous spirit, spirit generally. It’s helpful to have taught in other environments, for example overseas or in remote areas. To attract better teachers it’s important to give the job more prestige. Teachers and schools shouldn’t be whipping targets for politicians out to score cheap points. The job should be made more attractive. How? Money could be part of it. Cutting down on bureaucracy is pretty important. Meaningless staff meetings, much report writing and suchlike are energy and spirit sapping. A teacher’s energy and resources are not infinite and it’s better to put them into the job, into inspiring the students. What can be done with bad teachers? They should be sacked because they’re destroying people’s lives. How should a teacher be different from a parent? A teacher has an emotional detachment and can make decisions that are more objectively based. A teacher can and should be more even-tempered partly because of a time issue. The 24/7 of being a parent is harder. A teacher shouldn’t try and be the parent. It’s important for young people to be exposed to adults who are politically and socially, and in other ways different to their parents. A teacher, by providing a different view, opens up a child’s world. Does a good teacher need to be a good actor? No. The best teachers know their subject well, work hard and are fair. If you’ve got those three things as a teacher you’ll be effective and respected. Do you have the occasional doubt about your decision to take on the job of founding and being the principal of a day school? I admit I occasionally wonder if it was a good idea, but although the job is hard, it’s exhilarating. The most stressful moments are when a student goes home and tells a story to his or her parents about something that’s happened and then the parent comes storming in complaining and I have to sort out the problem. Again, it’s an energy thing; limited energy is better put into the students and into finding ways to make the school run better. When faced with the tough moments that occur in any school, I pretend that I’m the mouthpiece and speak the words that are for the good of the whole school. I have to step away from being myself and be the mouthpiece. I try not to take these things personally. Is there such a thing as a typical day for a student at Candlebark? The school isn’t really radical. The day starts with a short morning meeting where every one sits in a circle in a double classroom. We might do some yoga exercises, a drama game, watch a YouTube video, tell a story. Comments and announcements are made. The classes then go off to do their general subjects. A variation is that the students all do a period of chess each week. They have opportunities for extension interest subjects, which might be playing basketball or doing cake decorating. Wednesday afternoon is free time when the students can take part in a variety of activities or make their own choices about how to spend time. Each week there are a couple of silent reading times. The school has more class excursions, and sometimes whole-school excursions, than a general school. We recently spent a week away at Angelsea. The school also encourages incursions where guests come in and share their In the bush do you pay more attention to the micro or the macro? I probably pay more attention to the trees than to the sky – the middle view. Did your time at Timbertop influence the Tomorrow series? Definitely. It made me realise how much young people can achieve. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds would achieve so much on both a physical and mental level – you’d never imagine their abilities. Will you ever stop writing? I’m not doing much at the moment, but teaching is my creative outlet. I’ll always teach or write. Would you have been as good a writer if you’d always done it full time? No, the only way to learn about human nature is to mingle and mix. Teaching is good because human nature in its rawest form is in front of you every day. Can anyone learn to be creative? Yes, but for some it’s a harder challenge. Put people in a constantly stimulating environment, expose them to ideas and art forms, constantly challenge them. I once had a student who I always thought of as dull creatively, but who ended up going to an important film school in Melbourne. Creativity can be switched on at any time. Was there a moment when you thought, ‘I have to be a teacher?’ It was during Years 9 and 10, sitting in the back of classrooms, bored and intensely going mad, thinking why on earth my teachers had to teach in such a boring manner, that there had to be better ways to inspire young people; so it was the bad examples of teachers rather than the inspiring ones. There were some inspirational teachers, though, mainly in the primary years.