How to Teach in a System That’s Breaking

The education system isn’t what it used to be.

Teaching is a passion fueled career. We are the folks who have put our hand up to make a difference in the lives of children. And instead we have found ourselves in a scenario where we don’t have the impact anticipated. Overwhelmed by impossible adult to child ratios, a high level of unsupported student needs, curricula on fast forward, and pressure from politicians (who have zero training in child development), we are burning out….and fast!

This post is for the beautiful educators that I know, that I train, that I’ve worked alongside.. Those who are working harder than ever to fill the cracks with putty while the earthquake continues.

If you’re feeling disengaged, if you’re not sure how much more you can take, here are three tips to mull over while you go about your hectic teaching day.

1. Be People Focused

Educational policy and reform usually offer little benefit to the children. Or to us. Spin it any way you like, that’s politics. We know it and sadly we can’t change it.

But with a focus on people; the students you teach, the parents you support and the colleagues you work with, you can make a huge difference in the life of others.

Save your energy for where it matters and as much as possible, cocoon yourself from the rest.

2. Creatively Tweak Policy

Procedures and policies are there to be followed. But if there’s no avenue for feedback from staff, if you believe that something is more of a hindrance than a help, perhaps you can undertake some creative tweaking.

For example, your site is likely to have a homework policy. But does it specify what tasks your students have to engage in? You may be able to exchange pointless busy work with life skill development.

I am aware of several sites also, who have been able to successfully bend standardised government reporting expectations. It is possible, just proceed with care!

3. Know When to Get Out

It pains me to say this one…but know when it’s time to leave. You may still love teaching at the core of who you are but if you find yourself dragging your feet to work, if you feel that there’s too many ‘have tos’ clashing with your philosophy, it’s time to get out. Or simply pivot.

Teaching is a profession so influential that you need to feel that fire in your belly, to be empowered about making a difference. If you’re not feeling it, step aside for someone who is.

I fall into this category. My philosophy of learning through movement, play and connection remain a perfect fit for the preschool environment but I must confess, I no longer feel that there’s a place for me in a classroom.

I loved being a Junior Primary Teacher and parts of me in that role today still would. But in my last classroom contract in 2011, despite loving my principal, the students in my class, and the educator I shared them with, I felt too restricted.

I could see children slipping behind and I couldn’t dedicate enough individual time to save them. I wanted to play more, to move more, to focus less on academic skills that weren’t developmentally age appropriate. But while you can do a little of this as a school teacher, you can’t do a lot. That’s just not the way the system is set up.

So Educators…

Keep on making a difference. Keep on doing what you do. But stand up for what you believe in. Bend the rules ever so slightly. And when there’s no room left to bend, know when to get out.

Like this post? Then you’ll be super interested in the work of Protecting Childhood. In episode 37 of the Thriving Children Podcast, I chat with co-founder Kathy Margolis about teacher burnout and the difference this organisation strives to create within our education system. You can listen in here or on iTunes.

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