Being a Teacher in the 21st Century

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What does it mean to be a teacher in the 21st century?

Schoolteachers provide students with education and preparation for adulthood. However, what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century is rife with ambiguity. An analysis of educational artefacts will aid in answering this question. One is a system-level document titled Closing the Gap (Appendix A), while the other is a school-level document outlining the homework guidelines at Siena Catholic College (Appendix B). Discussion on these documents will relate to one of four educational discourses and the effects of policies on students, teachers and the schooling milieu. The four educational discourses include academic rationalism, social and economic efficiency, child centred learning, and social reconstruction (Morris, 1998, p. 12).

The Department of Education and Training produced the document Closing the Gap in July 2009. This document outlines an initiative to reduce Indigenous disadvantages under the pretence of education as a dominant catalyst for improved health and personal human capital. Ross & Wu (1995, p. 719) advocate this pretence, stating ‘high educational attainment improves health directly, and it improves health indirectly through work and economic conditions, social-psychological resources, and health lifestyle’. Halving the gap for Indigenous reading, writing, numeracy, and Year 12 attainment within a decade is the predominant goal for the Closing the Gap scheme. Essentially then, a discourse of social reconstruction underpins this document, as it focuses on community interaction, injustices, social problems and inequalities. Generally, the policies introduced enforce a foundation of inclusivity and anti-discrimination in the actions of teachers. The effects on students, however, will be more profound. Higher levels of education bring wealth and changes in social class, which in turn allows resources for further education (Orr, 2003, p. 282). This will narrow the social classes between students, encouraging collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Although a discourse of social reconstruction is prevalent throughout this document, some policies that are introduced are based on other discourses.

Academic rationalism is another discourse that can be associated with the policies in Closing the Gap. The ‘Deadly Maths’ initiative encourages high expectations of attendance, behaviour and performance to raise numeracy education outcomes for Indigenous students. This policy aims to improve schoolteacher understanding of the nature and pedagogy of mathematics, particularly the role of symbols and pattern recognition. It also aims to improve the teachers understanding of the nature and pedagogy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, culture, language, and out of school life. Initially, this may seem unrelated to mathematics, or any academic discipline. However, teachers are not removed from traditions other than science, that is, rational inquiry and the search for truth. As Moran (2005) states, ‘An historian or a sociologist who is ignorant of religion will be hampered within his or her own field of scholarship. The classroom is not a place for proselytising but the traditions of the students deserve respect and the tradition of the teacher needs acknowledgment’.

Differences in literacy and numeracy levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students were revealed through NAPLAN and will continue to be tested this way in the future. This method of testing can be attributed to the academic rationalist educational discourse and can be detrimental to achieving the goals and ideals detailed throughout this document. ‘The potentially destructive affects of such data on school, teachers' and students' self-esteem was suggested as a real negative of NAPLAN for Indigenous students’ (Lingard, 2011, p. 230). Ironically, the use of these tests is in opposition to a discourse of social reconstruction, the discourse which...
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