Teacher: One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabbie Stroud

It’s simple. For thirty-five plus years I loved teaching. I loved teaching kids.

And then ’…, under the guise of equity and excellence standardised NAPLAN testing and the My School website infiltrated classrooms around Australia. Infiltrated the profession I loved. Infiltrated the classroom my baby would one day attend.’ So wrote Gabby Stroud. In my case, though, it’s my beloved granddaughters. I live in hope it will soon be consigned to the dustbin, along with the many other previously misguided notions inflicted on our nation’s kids by the ‘experts’ and the dullards in the higher, rarefied echelons of Education Departments all over Australia. I live in hope of that happening before its damage gets to be inflicted on those precious, unique and tender minds so close to my heart.

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Now I could spend the rest of this review railing against other travesties such as National Curriculums, IWBs, A-E assessments, rubrics that came on-stream in the later years of my career, alongside my by now obvious abhorrence of NAPLAN. Instead, I’ll urge every interested parent and practitioner I can influence to simply read Ms Stroud’s ‘Teacher’. With a slow death NAPLAN killed off her career as far as a classroom teaching was concerned. Fortunately she has found success in other fields and has delivered this tome as a wake-up call. I suspect it will strike a chord with many front line educators in schools across our wide brown land. It’s well reported the frustration that exists with a system it has encouraged that focuses on student failure as opposed to strengths, on conformity rather than difference and which, in its wake, is destructive to the art of teaching.
After I finished the final page I reported to my beloved that I could write a book on Gabbie Stroud’s tale of her short-lived stint as a drillmaster when all she wanted to be was a teacher. My lovely lady’s response was ‘Why don’t you?’ Well, it would make me too angry to start with. And, besides, those who need to read her plea for common sense, those who put and keep NAPLAN in place, have not listened to date. We know those who impose their politically motivated, self-serving notions on the wonderful kids of our country will be deaf to any plea. That would take something they lack, something most out front of a classroom have in spades – empathy. As much as I look back with fondness I am far happier and less stressed as a retired person.

There are differences between the author and myself. An ocean cruise made me see the light. Apart from in my first year I never struggled as a teacher, but I largely operated in more benign times. I was, I realized on that Pacific sojourn, mentally on my way out and as the full negative impact of NAPLAN hadn’t really affected me, it was only a minor consideration in my decision. I really struggled after that cruise. I only lasted one more term. I didn’t want to be in the classroom anymore. It was time. I was done.

NAPLAN didn’t kill me off. There are other contrasts as well. I had no tickets on myself that I was inspirational in front of a cohort of students, but I was competent, in control and had a good knowledge base. I ran, generally speaking, a tight and comfortable ship. I lasted far longer than she did, although that’s in no way her fault – just luck and timing. Hers was an excruciating burn-out to resignation, the impositions from on high grinding her down. I did not have the significantly profound relationships with my students she claims she had, but the student/teacher relationship was at the core of my practice. Nothing, I would think, could be more central than that – but then, my confrontation with NAPLAN was not up close and personal. Like the best in her field Gabrielle Stroud possessed a soft soul encased by a brittle shell. And, as she states, to be a teacher who truly engages you need to possess a little crazy too. The best I worked with had that – or at least they put on a convincing act. They had the ability to keep the troops guessing, to produce the unexpected. The art of it should never be undersold as novices quickly discover. You either have it or you don’t. ‘Teacher’ is infused with the type of humanity so lacking in those pulling the strings in Canberra and to a lesser degree on this island. It makes me sad that it seems their view is that a teacher’s main role is to test and produce data on what they already are fully aware of. With NAPLAN in operation young esteem and self worth is crushed for many, with parent and teacher left to pick up the pieces. The role of a teacher as a nurturer is fundamentally impeded.

On a recent trip back to Burnie I had the need to visit a real estate office. At reception I vaguely recognised the beautiful face looking back at me as I requested time with the agent. She took me to his office and said to her boss, ‘I expect you to really look after this gentleman. He taught me. He was one of the good ones.’ Bugger profound relationships. ‘Good’ will do me just fine. If my career is defined by that, I’m chuffed.

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Ms Stroud writes with heart about some of the students, colleagues, places and schools she worked with and in. Please read this book.

Ms Stroud’s website = https://gabbiestroud.com/

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