I wrote this post in Dutch first, but some people asked for a translation.
On Saturday I was one of the experts asked in the Belgian newspaper De Morgen what we could do to make education better. When the telephone rang on Friday with the question “what I would do to turn the tide”, I was at first at a loss for words. If I had a magic bullet to solve the shortage of teachers, for example, I would have shouted it from the rooftops long ago. Eventually, I came to this:
The time a teacher and pupil spend together is precious. That is why it must be protected at all costs, says educationalist Pedro De Bruyckere (Arteveldehogeschool). “I would do everything in my power so that the time in the classroom could go to learning. You don’t need a teacher’s diploma to supervise. Let volunteers or other people do that. The current teacher shortage leaves a budget for subjects where we cannot find a teacher. Use that money to recruit people without teaching qualifications for those tasks that a teacher shouldn’t do.”
That way, teachers can focus on their core task: teaching. “In practice, a quarter of the time between pupil and teacher is lost due to interruptions,” says De Bruyckere. “Just think of a pupil who is late, administration that needs to be put in order or an announcement that sounds through the intercom. After an interruption, pupils need a lot of time to concentrate again. Parents, pupils and schools must be more aware of this and, for example, attach more importance to being on time. These are small things, but can have more impact than you think.”
It may sound like something ridiculously simple and small and I added that the same applies to principals who are often even more busy drowning than teachers.
Here is my full attempt at some principles we might apply in the coming years:
- Time together is precious, the time that teacher and pupil spend together should be used optimally. Anything that can be done by someone else should be done by someone else if there are no teachers. And no, I’m not just talking about Direct Instruction as optimal use, class discussion, drawing lessons, etc. are also important.
- Support teachers who are struggling with problems they don’t have a solution for.
- Make teachers able to advertise our wonderful profession again. There is little point in launching an advertising campaign for the teaching profession. The 30 seconds on YouTube or the fraction of a second that someone glances at a poster are nothing compared to the hours that pupils spend with their teachers. If the latter’s enthusiasm is put under pressure by the negative spiral we are currently in, we will only sink further. So get to work on making the working conditions of teachers better.
- And above all: make choices. No, we cannot do or fix everything in education. If education has to do everything, nothing really happens properly.
So in all of this, we have to rely on the professionalism of our teaching staff, because that is – insert curse here – how the majority is performing. It may seem different to you based on some personal experience maybe, but it’s simple: we have to make do with the teachers we have. Others will not be coming soon and we are already losing too many.
Therefore, coddle them, believe in them and relieve them of any ballast. Will this do miracles? No, but if we put a few such lines in the sand, it may help turn the tide.
(And for anyone outside education who thinks: I know how to do better in education, please read this).