Home > Quotes, reflection, Teaching > The challenges and demands of teaching in the 21st Century

The challenges and demands of teaching in the 21st Century

This is a DRAFT. I have very few references, and there are some very strong statements contained within it. I thought at this stage in wrestling with that which is politically correct and that which underlies my entire philosophy in regards to teaching and education, it may be worth my while to test the brevity of my attempted indifference.
I hoped also that perhaps it could be an accessible conversation starter at those numerous dinner parties that educators do not get invites to. :-)

I have spent months beginning this essay. I have seven drafts of it that I cannot seem to reconcile into a single form, and the problem I had been encountering seemed only to become exacerbated with every attempt at concreting an idea which would allow an essay to be based upon it. I have posted a number of blogs in a reflective motion in an attempt also to help me clarify the thought and direction I wished for this essay to take.

In order to begin to clarify the subject, I will restate it. Teaching in the 21st century is challenging and demanding. This is a reflective analysis of issues facing secondary teachers. My initial difficulty stems from the fact that  throughout my 35 years on this planet, I have only taught music to secondary students or in secondary schools for a grand total of 2 years, and only 6 months of this has been in classroom settings. Secondary to this, teaching in itself can be challenging and demanding, so these issues must be removed from this essay. The analysis is to focus on those areas of concern which have come about  over the last 11 years within the teaching profession which directly affect the teachers ability to teach. Thirdly, since this essay is being written in N.S.W Australia, it will again narrow it’s focus to issues facing secondary teachers within N.S.W that have become apparent since the turn of the century.

A brief overview of ‘what encompasses secondary education’ for clarification purposes.  The criteria that distinguishes secondary education from other forms of education differs from country to country and at least in Australia that I know of, differs from state to state..A simple difference that is extremely important is what year/grade levels does secondary education encompass. In N.S.W, secondary education ranges from grade 7 through to grade 12. This differs from other states and territories because they have a middle school also which houses grade levels 7 through to 9 leaving only years 10 to 12 that fit into the secondary category. Personally, I believe secondary education is much more manageable in this form, but I am not a policy maker.

The rate at which fundamental tenets in educating people are changing is obscene. Time has contracted to such an extent, that there is ostensibly a wait no longer time instead of a wait time, especially when researching. That which defined intelligence has changed. I watched a 2 year old navigate around an iphone last night. This means at his age, there is still at least another three years before he is introduced to formal education. He was able to go through photos and edit them, save them, save as, so as not to get in trouble by his father for damaging the original. He (The two year old) then managed to navigate to the games area where he is already able to type in his name on the keyboard that appears when you get the high score. For me this demonstration coupled with the hundreds of other pre-school age children I’ve had dealings with over the last 10 years makes most of the education theories and the theorists seem to me like they have been left out of the loop.

They (Theorists and theories to do with how we learn) have begun to cease to hold weight for me because they are based on assessment that dealt with a world completely foreign to now, and so is no longer relevant. about the 640K limit. It is actually a limit, not of the software, in any way, shape, or form, it is the limit of the microprocessor. That thing generates addresses, 20-bits addresses, that only can address a megabyte of memory. And, therefore, all the applications are tied to that limit. It was ten times what we had before. But to my surprise, we ran out of that address base for applications within—oh five or six years” (Bill Gates 1991)

I am typing this on a computer that has numbers associated with its memory that I was not taught in school. One gigabyte is the size of it’s RAM, and the hard drive that I store my files on has one terabyte of space. These numbers might have well been a googolplex, as there was no way in my society that we would need to understand real integers of such magnitude even at the turn of the 21st century. Eleven years on they are banal, and the natives of this century think them not out of common.

Mistakes being made out of ignorance that could at some stage in human history be hidden under the veil of ‘not knowing what was meant’ will no longer be accepted. The knowledge we(us 20th centurians) know has changed. For one who has grown up whin this new knowledge (a native 21st centurian), what is being taught resembles the sentiment in the following quote  from Douglas Adams You will need to know the difference between Friday and a fried egg. It’s quite a simple difference, but an important one. Friday comes at the end of the week, whereas a fried egg comes out of a chicken.” .

There are six main points that I have highlighted in the preceding text, and for clarification and reiteration to help with a knowing understanding(apologies for the obtuse tautology), I will summarise them now and draw a conclusion of my reflection before deepening the explanation of them.

  1. The fundamental ways of teaching and learning have broadened dramatically in scope and acceptable practises.
  2. The Definition of intelligence has changed equivalent in scope and magnitude to the shift brought about by the introduction of IQ testing.
  3. Time has contracted, wait times on gathering informational resources are almost non-existent
  4. Although always an issue, what the system considers new knowledge is gaining faster obsolescence within society than ever it did before.
  5. Ignorance was ok because there was too much information to possible sort through in one lifetime. The sorted information is now accessible instantly (at least in theory)
  6. There is a large age spread in secondary education that is not consistent across Australian states and territories.

There has been so much revision of educational practises, curriculum, syllabuses, management strategies, teaching styles, and professional training over the last 20 years, that I find it difficult just to comprehend it let alone reflect upon and analyse it.

Listening to my lecturers, and the understanding I have gained from the latest documentation on curriculum and syllabus, especially in respect to assessment and outcomes points to teachers being asked not to teach from a philosophical understanding of education, but rather to teach from an ideological socialist perspective. For preparation of employment, for the good of the economy, and embracing the political activities of responsible citizenship.

And this is ok for it narrows the scope of demands and challenges for teachers in the 21stcentury. Making demands within most of the points I have made far more arrestable. The knowledge that we must teach now fits within a generalized common good. I am not teaching for individualism unless it benefits, and promotes the common good. This in turn, allows for a hierarchical preference as to how time and resources shall be allocated.

“Australia’s education system is currently dumbed down, politically correct and under-performing.While those with a vested interest in the status quo pretend that standards are high and that parents and students have nothing to worry about, the reality is that our education system is in crisis.”(Donnelly 2000)

Although the ways of teaching and learning has broadened, equity and choice tends to vary proportionately with, and running parallel to social demographics. I myself was brought up and taught within a much more liberal perspective of education than I am being taught now as a teacher. This perspective under modern guidelines and educational tenets (thinking directly of those guidelines I have been asked to teach under this year), would most definitely be an impossibility and almost move us into the realms of the fantastical.

What I have been given as a better approach to teaching is essentially the American Federation of Teachers effective curriculum guidelines, and the ‘how to’ of getting your country in the top 3 on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) assessment indicators. I would hazard a guess that these approaches have been brought into being in Australia through the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority as a response to the increased NAPLAN testing, as to how we as teachers can better results. As noted in Cuttance and Stokes (2000), while parents want succinct, objective and consistent measures of student performance, the politically correct approach does the opposite.

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Categories: Quotes, reflection, Teaching
  1. Lucy
    May 20, 2011 at 2:33 am

    One of the biggest challenges facing Australian educators of the 21st century would have to be identifying the worldview upon which any curriculum is framed within as our society becomes more and more diverse.
    I have to say that I whole-heartedly concur with your concerns, particularly in relation to teachers being asked to teach from an ideological socialist perspective over the philosophical approach.
    Freedom of speech has almost been totally consumed by political correctness in this country and it is a major concern that free thinking is beginning to be constrained by the institutions that were originally established to nurture it.
    It would be a sad day that sees the passive implementation of thought/speech control through our national education system given that so many have fought and died for us and our children to live in a free and democratic society.
    Let’s hope we haven’t reached the tipping point yet!

  2. April 13, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Excellent blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on
    everything. Would you advise starting with a free
    platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there
    that I’m totally confused .. Any ideas? Thanks!

    • April 17, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      I would advise to definitely begin with something free like WordPress , it has upgrade options, and will allow you to start simple and learn the in’s and outs of blogging as you move along. It’s also got quite good support even without upgrade options. Thanks for reading

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