Chapter Ten: Prospects for Education
“Well, I’ve finished my first year of teaching, and I’ve accomplished my two main goals. I’m still alive, and I’m not going to be fired.” Toni grinned at Aaron across their coffees. The school year had just ended, and this would be the last of their meetings until the fall. She had found their get-togethers every few weeks tremendously helpful because she got a chance to talk about her own feelings and frustrations about teaching, and she also learned from listening to her colleague talk about his successes and tribulations. Their support for each other had helped both of them make it through their first year of teaching.
“I’m like you,” Aaron replied. “Early in the year I re-adjusted my expectations as to what I could accomplish. I realized that it would be hard enough just to do what was required, without getting overly ambitious. But I have to say that by the spring I was feeling much more comfortable and started to experiment with a few things. And I’m really looking forward to September. This year I just know I’ll be a lot more comfortable, and much more able to do the sorts of things I want in my class—things that are good for kids.”
“I agree. I do feel much better than I did in October.” Toni paused. “But you know, I’m not really sure whether I’ll stay in teaching for too many years.”
“Why is that?” Aaron asked. “After all the work of getting through university, you want to give it up?”
“I’m a person who has high standards, Aaron,” she replied. “I put a lot of effort into the things I do, and I want the results to reflect that. I worked really hard this year, and I think I did a pretty good job. But it wasn’t as good a job as I wanted to do. Teaching just seems to have so many constraints, and you have to make so many compromises. There’s so much stuff to do that gets in the way of what I think is really important. Just getting permission to have a field trip can take weeks of time, never mind actually organizing the trip. I’m filling in reports when I should be thinking about the next day’s or week’s classes. There are too many kids who seem to be underserved. The ones who are really quiet, and even the ones who cause me so much aggravation—I really feel I could reach them if I had more time or fewer students. There are so many things happening in kids’ lives that the school can’t or won’t affect. They’re having to cope with tremendous changes all around them while we’re teaching topics like alliteration or photosynthesis. Just this past week I had another student whose parents are separating. How do I tell her just to put it aside and concentrate on her math? Sometimes I wonder if schools will ever be really educational places.”
“I suppose no institution or job is perfect,” Aaron said. “I can see all kinds of ways schools could be better, and all kinds of ways I could be a better teacher, too. I think that’s part of our responsibility—not just to work in our own classrooms, but also to try to be part of larger-scale improvements as well. In our school, the parent organization has really been working hard this year. At first there was quite a bit of friction with the staff, and we were nervous about what they would want us to do. They had a strong desire to have a better sense of how well kids were doing, which we thought meant they wanted lots of standardized testing. Over the course of a few meetings, we began to realize that they had a legitimate interest in finding out what kids were learning, and they realized that our concerns about standardized testing weren’t just self-protective. Now we’ve got a set of ideas about how we can give parents and the community more information about students’ achievement, and they have a better idea of what some of the limits on that information are. Of course, that wasn’t easy to do, but the result will be worth the effort.
“I guess that’s how I feel about lots of aspects of being a teacher,” he continued. “There’s tons of work, but don’t you feel that the challenge is an exciting one? Besides, you have so much talent at teaching that it would be a tremendous loss if you stopped.”
“Well, I’m not ready to quit yet. I’m planning to give it another couple of years before I decide. For one thing, I really enjoy being around the kids; most of them are great. It’s exciting to see them getting turned on by learning. And I’m excited about our new principal, who said some good things at our last staff meeting about plans for next year. It sounds as if she wants to get teachers much more involved in curriculum decisions, and work on within-grade and cross-grade inquiry projects. She’s asked for our ideas about possible improvements. Naturally I have a long list, although I think I’ll give her a chance to catch her breath before I throw them at her, especially since I’m only finishing my first year. I don’t know where I’ll get the time to do these things, but it would sure be exciting if I could be the kind of teacher I want to be and have the support of the school.”
“That’s the great thing about teaching,” Aaron laughed. “There’s always plenty of room for improvement.”
The first nine chapters of this book have taken readers on a whirlwind tour of the organization and functioning of Canadian schools and have attempted to review some of the main features and dynamics of the education system. We began Chapter One by saying that changes in Canadian society require not only, that educators understand the organization of schools as they exist in Canada, but also that we scrutinize it critically and ask questions about how they might be otherwise. Throughout the other chapters, we have tried to point out some of the constraints and opportunities of current forms of school organization, and to also draw attention to the tensions and dilemmas inherent in schooling.
This final chapter focuses briefly on the prospects for schooling in the future. It considers some of the forces and pressures on schools in Canada that are likely to be present over the next few years, and some of the responses that schools are trying to make.