A Teacher’s Perspective

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A Teacher’s Perspective

By Matthew Panopoulos, M.Ed. (research)

As a NSW music teacher of almost six years, I frequently work with hundreds of students in three main roles: primary classroom, secondary classroom, and private tuition. If you asked me which one I enjoy and believe in most, it would be the last one. Having flexibility and the freedom to tailor learning to the interests of each student are invaluable, and being able to dedicate my full attention to them during the lesson leaves me feeling that I can have more of a meaningful impact in five minutes than I could in a one-hour lesson with thirty students. I am not yet a father myself; instead, most of my experience with home education comes from friends and relatives who have made that choice, and I wanted to write this article to explain why, as a trained school teacher, home education is making more and more sense to me.

Firstly, in almost six years I have watched as the pressures of testing, assessing and reporting have increased in my workplace. Not only are students expected to do things such as NAPLAN testing, they will also do NAPLAN practice tests. I have consoled many a Year 7 student experiencing a mental breakdown from the five or so major assessments and tests due that week, when they’ve only been in high school for two months. In 2018, the Sydney Morning Herald printed an article highlighting that 47% of Australian students feel very tense regarding their school studies, a full 10% higher than the international average. As a classroom teacher on the ground, I have witnessed this in action and I am not surprised; I see an over-emphasis on massive, grade-determining assessments and mountains of extra work creeping into younger and younger years. Just the other day, I had a private music student tell me they didn’t get time to play their guitar because they were too busy doing their homework – in Kindergarten. Ironically enough, a New South Wales parliamentary enquiry into home education in 2014 found that home educated children did better in all areas of NAPLAN than mainstream students. Go figure, right?

Secondly, the diverse learning needs of my classroom students are a constant struggle, but not in the way some might assume. The issue is time. I will happily work with any student, regardless of whether they would fall into the ‘normal’ or ‘special needs’ category of educational policy, but there is only so much I can do in a one hour lesson with thirty students. Averaged out, that is only two minutes of quality time per student, and being able to identify when a student needs my attention and being unable to give them that time has left me feeling guilty too many times to count. I will admit that, in my first year of teaching, the majority of my assessments were group projects just so I could spend more time giving good feedback to each student; it also made it much easier to do the pages upon pages of paperwork required for reporting. Now that I’m further into my career, the monotony of the standardised ‘one-size-fits-all’ assessment schedule often seems like a waste of time, time that could be much better spent talking to students about their learning. By comparison, between 2017 and 2018 news.com.au, ABC, and SBS all ran stories explaining how a number of children who had struggled in mainstream schooling were thriving in home education because they could learn at their own pace. When I compare the quality interactions of one-on-one home education to my own private music tuition, I have no trouble understanding why some parents and carers would prefer taking charge of their child’s learning. As my own experience constantly shows me, no amount of assessment indicators can have as much impact as focused, quality time when teaching.

This leads me to my most compelling strength when one-on-one teaching: individualised learning. Why should a student be punished when they are not interested in a topic? As much as I enjoy his works, why does every student need to succeed in analysing a Shakespeare play every year to be considered competent at English? These are the kinds of issues I escape when I move from classroom to private teaching. You find that Mozart’s music bores you to tears? That’s alright! Let’s find something that you find interesting. Home educators get an advantage that classroom teachers will never have, and when I teach my private students (many of them in their homes) I can see the power in this. Many a teacher I speak to about home education will counter this with the same argument; ‘but they are not qualified teachers, they can’t do as good a job.’ If you are a home educating parent or carer, what these teachers are underestimating is that there is no-one more qualified in knowing your child than you. With many of my private students, the collaboration with their parents in learning is a massive part of why they do so well. There may be some truth in these teachers’ feelings that some home educators aren’t as effective as they could be; my experience has shown me that it is no different with school teachers. When I was young, I had some brilliant teachers, and I had some who I am still frightened of today. With the passion I see around me in parents who are truly invested in their children’s learning, there is no reason why they couldn’t do at least as good a job as the teachers who inspired me to take my career path.

So, with all of this in mind, why does home education keep sounding better and better to me? Because to really help a child learn you need to know that child.

A report by Stuart Chapman of Accelerate found that, between 2011 and 2017, the number of homeeducating families in Australia has grown by 82%. With school teachers like me being put under more and more pressure to spend their valuable learning time testing, assessing, and reporting, I understand why.


Just one of the great articles in the May issue of Otherways Magazine

Matthew mentions several media articles, you can find more of those on our Media Watch page.

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