With my recent outreach to the Internet community for help with Classroom heroes, I received a lot of commentary on the state of teaching. A lot of people offered their support and congratulations for the project, but often couched their good wishes in sentiments like “Unlike the rest of teacher” or “Unlike teachers in my area”. Some people even responded to my request with comments like “Why don’t you just try and teach normally?” and others using less civil language.
When it comes to public perceptions of teachers and teaching, it can often be difficult to explain the experience of being a teacher to someone whose only personal experiences of education have been as a student. It can be harder still if their experiences were primarily negative. So in the midst of the many emails, I was inspired to write the following analogy that, for me, represents many of the conflicts and difficulties faced by teachers in Australia (and, I suspect, many Western countries – my conversations with teachers from England and the U.S. make me feel confident that this analogy applies generally to the situation of teachers in those countries.).
Imagine that you are an Auto mechanic. You work on cars all day long, repairing and improving them. You became a mechanic because you enjoy working with cars and engines, and you want to do the best job you can do.
Then along comes a new boss who takes over the workshop that employs you. The new boss is not a mechanic, and has never worked as a mechanic. They are a business person who believes that because they have driven a car for most of their life, they know how to best manage the workshop.
The new boss announces that all work on the cars must be completed with screwdrivers, and that while other tools may be used, it is only the use of screwdrivers that will matter.
Some mechanics refuse this rule. They say it is ridiculous, and that properly fixing and maintaining a car requires the use of a wide range of tools that need to be used as appropriate to the particular car and its particular needs. Those mechanics are called ‘troublemakers’ and accused of not wanting to do the best job that they can.
As the mechanics in the workshop do their best to mainly use screw drivers, the quality of work suffers. More cars are developing repeat problems or engines aren’t getting fixed properly. The car owners are unhappy, but when they complain that they are not getting the best quality of repair work on their cars, the boss blames the mechanics, saying that procedures have been put in place to ensure cars are repaired properly, but the mechanics aren’t following those procedures correctly.
Unfortunately, the car owners have about as much experience fixing cars as the boss does, and while they might suspect that the bosses explanation isn’t quite right, they don’t feel like they can challenge the boss on his explanations After all, he’s the boss, he should know what he is doing, right? When some of the mechanics try to point out that cars can’t be fixed properly using only screw drivers, some of the car owners AND the boss respond by saying that the mechanics are just bad at their job.
Some of the car owners even say that the mechanics deserve to be paid less, they should be fired, they need to do what they are told, and that it is entirely the mechanics fault that the cars aren’t working properly. The boss then says that due to public demand, wages will need to be cut, some people fired, and perhaps even more new methods of car repair will need to be introduced.
But the boss isn’t going to be the one to do it, they are moving on to a new business and someone else will be improving the workshop.
So the new boss arrives, and announces that they know how to get this workshop working efficiently again. Hammers!
The mechanics just sigh and do their best to get on with the work, and everyone wonders why they are less motivated than they used to be…
So that’s my analogy for the experience of being a teacher. Does it sound absurd? Well it’s what is happening with education in Australia on a rapidly increasing basis. In America and the U.K. teachers already feel the full force of what it’s like to try and do a complex job while being forced to focus on the use of one single, limited tool. Sadly, there are an abundance of limited tools in education. We call them ‘politicians’.
What do you think?