A Journey To a Different Place

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When I first started teaching, in the early eighties, teaching was a different experience. I was teaching in a one stream school. Technology was limited to a fordiograph machine with which teachers could produce wonderful metholated spirit infused worksheets. There was also a sharp bladed guillotine to cut paper which we all used nervously. We taught all day every day and did duty too. The staff room was filled with smoke as incredibly many of us smoked and inflicted the smoke on our colleagues uncaringly.

Now this picture doesn’t seem all that inspired, but it really was a time filled with opportunity. It was a time where school governance by external authorities, at least in Australia, was quite muted. We had a fairly vague Curriculum, we had reading schemes and Maths schemes which were surprisingly well structured for differentiation. What was really exciting though was the time and scope available to us as teachers. My classroom was an exciting place filled with a nature table, a reading corner, a play shop, dress ups and a host of exciting stimulus materials depending on the theme being explored.We had time for art, for sport, for play, for drama, time for imagination to run away.

There were opportunities to take the children on amazing journeys into space, on pirate ships and to walk with dinosaurs.I remember well creating an aeroplane fuselage and boarding my class for a round the world trip with images produced via a carrousel slide projector and sound via a tape recorder. Some of the sounds incidentally were obtained live at the airport.
The experiences while not especially sophisticated were rich and filled with learning. The children were engrossed and excited to be involved.

There has been significant change in the intervening years. Demands on teachers have changed and are changing. The Curriculum is more intense and detailed. Teachers accountability is growing as are the demands for professional development. Technology is increasingly sophisticated and empowering. The children have changed too. Their expectations are different. They generally come to school with greater sophistication and perhaps with less excited anticipation. I wonder, whether as this evolution has occurred, has the spontaneity, imagination and fun ebbed away?
Perhaps it is just me no longer teaching younger children in such close proximity. Perhaps my passion has diminished subtly over the years.

I am fearful though that it is the direction we have headed that has somehow eroded what was at the heart of a great and real education. I am fearful that we are letting spontaneity and imagination become obscured by process and an overly demanding and prescriptive Curriculum and by a system increasingly dominated by external measures.

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