Conversations can make the classroom an affirming and stimulating learning environment.
Gone are the days of rote learning. No longer do students sit in silence, listening to the monotonous drones of their unenthused teacher scratching away at a murky blackboard. Today, teaching involves genuine teacher-student interactions and the development of supportive and trusting relationships.
It is interesting to reflect on my 13 years of schooling. The level of my success in any subject was often directly related to the relationship I shared with the teacher. I usually performed best in my favourite subjects, and they were usually taught by my favourite teachers. And my favourite teachers weren’t necessarily the ones who frequently let us watch movies, or let us out 10 minutes early. The best teachers were those who made learning fun and manageable and filled me with confidence that they genuinely cared.
It is, I believe, a teacher’s ability to forge a strong relationship with his or her students, both inside and outside the classroom, that can be used as a measure of success. Often, especially among younger students, staff members can seem quite scary – and some are. But the opportunity to spend a week with a teacher on camp, or see them for four hours a week on the sports field can be a real eye-opener for many boys. Teachers are real people, too.
School Captain Tom Goodwin (left) in conversation with Vice-Captain Tim Macmillan
The emphasis placed on the rapport between staff and student is ever increasing, and I think this is indicative of the changing set of values imposed on the modern education system. One measure by which the ‘success’ of a school is measured is the ATAR average (or equivalent) achieved by its most recent graduates.
This is only one indicator of a school’s worth. In my opening address to the school, I alerted the boys to my belief that ‘one of the most admirable aspects of our school, an aspect most outsiders are perhaps unaware of, is the willingness of staff and students alike to support each other, to nurture talent and to encourage enthusiasm. I believe our success as a school, primarily extends from this communal, unspoken culture to help others improve.’
This desire from many staff members within our school to go out of their way and care for the boys’ needs in many facets of school life, epitomises the way in which the role of the modern teacher has been redefined.
Having watched many of my closest friends move off into university life, the divide that exists between a school teacher and a university lecturer has become increasingly clear to me. It is rare for lecturers to know many, if any of their students’ names. If a student forgets to hand in an assignment, there is no follow-up. If a student doesn’t understand something, it is up to the student to seek assistance. The teachers I’ve interacted with during my time at Scotch could not have been more different.
Many secondary schools in Australia and elsewhere have recently moved to compulsory personal laptops in the classroom. I find the prevalence of laptops in classrooms somewhat puzzling. Most young people today are more than computer literate and spend a lot of their discretionary time on their computers playing games, trawling the internet or on Facebook or other networking sites. Surely in the classroom it is more important to engage with a teacher who is passionate about his or her subject rather than staring at a computer screen.
While the addition of technology into the classroom can have some benefits, the ease at which students can become distracted with personalised laptops, and the subsequent dependence on computers, is concerning. Why reduce the level of personal interaction and communication, when these are such vital life skills? I strongly believe that an excellent education depends on excellent teachers, not on technology.
Often, the sign of a good teacher is unrelated to their level of expertise in the subject. More often it is reflected in their desire to actively engage with their students. A small, 30 second conversation can mean so much, such as enquiring about how a student’s cricket game went on the weekend. Just a small amount of interest in a student’s personal life can make them feel so much more valued and respected, and consequently they will work harder for their teacher.
Our Principal, Mr Tom Batty is a strong advocate of teaching conversations, and as a student of his era, my personal experience is that this teaching ethos is highly effective. For a student to feel valued and respected means a lot, and is a strong motivator; for a teacher to show that they care for each student individually, makes a world of difference.
The teaching that is required in the classroom can make for a good school and a good education. The conversations that make the classroom an affirming and stimulating learning environment make for a great school.
Scotch College: ABN 86 852 826 445 ACN 005 650 395 CRICOS 00624A (Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students)