My school visits continue to have one common thread and that is inspiration. The teachers that I work with -no matter the decile (grouping of 1-10 for the economic level of the community for the school in NZ), the teachers are inspiring. It was no surprise that a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked NZ teachers as fourth out of 35 countries for most professional teachers according to an article published by newshub.com (http://www.newshub.co.nz/nznews/nz-teachers-rank-highly-for-professionalism—-study-2016021310#axzz42MCH6jUE). The teachers ranked highly in teacher training, professional development, autonomy in their work and networking with peers. All of this I have witnessed in each of the schools that I have visited thus far, and I have been to a range of different decile schools. I know that I have a snapshot of the schools, but the teachers are professional colleagues that plan their students’ curriculum and help gather resources for each other most of the time in a shared community space. Sometimes this shared space is a seasoned teacher’s classroom or a science department workroom with their own individual desks. They spend their “tea time” together and a much lengthier lunchtime than the 27 minutes to which I am accustomed enjoying camaraderie and/or planning for their classes together. There is much less formal student assessment (more on that to come in another blog), however the assessment appears to have more depth and more beneficial for the student. But simply focusing on the teachers themselves, I have seen some amazingly impressive teaching and learning by the students. Teachers that are caring about the students as a whole being by helping them on their applications for scholarships on their free periods or during lunch breaks or talking to them about their futures and/or concerns. Just about everything is much more relaxed – and in the most positive way! Using the word “relaxed” can sometimes denote negative connotations in the U.S., but I have witnessed the most impressive form of this word in the schools and in the country as a whole! I have seen teachers inspiring students even at the most challenging time of a teacher’s day – last period! Everyone is ready to go at the end of the day, and I have seen teachers engage their students in the most organic ways -from going outside to get a visual learning exercise on the playground of circuits with students lining up around the slide and jungle gym and running around as the electrons moving to giving “lollies” (lollipop) to the student whom the class deems as having the most intriguing question (really good ones here, like “which other species have chins besides humans and why do we have chins” and “why are some things deemed ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly” and the teacher connecting these questions to mathematical equations! Brilliant!) to the teacher leading a Biology lesson on respiration and heart rate calculations and having the students run around the building. Simple, yet engaging, and active learning environments for the students! Also using the outdoors and the fresh air outside of the box of the classrooms to create these lessons. There is technology incorporation, lab practicals, and sometimes simply SciPads with thoughtful, engaging discussions! The teachers are enthusiastic and love their subject areas as much as they do their students! There is depth and knowledge, caring and consideration, concern and value in the schools that I have visited so far and I am sure there is more to come in the next schools that I visit! The overarching theme here is that the most powerful element in these schools (in any country) is the teachers and their value should never be overlooked.
Update – 3/15/16 – As a follow up to this blog, I am so happy that my home State of Alabama just recently had a bill pass the House of Representatives for public school teachers to receive a 4% pay increase. This is the first pay raise that teachers have received in Alabama in 10 years due to the economic downturn. A step in the right direction of valuing teachers.