Det hundrade åseriet/The hundredth åsic- A Moment 22 for many teachers

In 1992, I started off as a class teacher of twelve-year-olds in grade six. My exam covered Swedish, English and the four different subjects that are called ”SO” in Swedish, i.e, Geography, Social Science, History, and Religion. I was supposed to teach grades 1-7 in the Swedish Compulsory School System.  In 1992, it wasn’t unusual for teachers to teach both subjects they were skilled for as well as subjects where they didn’t have any exams. In my case my first job as a teacher was a position as a ”class teacher” with both Math, Science and Art. You may think:

”So what? If you have graduated, it doesn’t matter what subject you teach!”

I strongly object to that point of view. It DOES matter! First of all you need more time to prepare lessons properly in subjects where you have no academical skills or grades. Secondly you may not find suitable examples for students to understand complex structures or important details. Students who need extra attention from the teacher in order to ”get it”, would be better off with a skilled teacher in Math, rather than a teacher in Swedish, who tries her very best.

A Moment 22

The subjects you love most of all, will be neglected since you need to make an effort and focus on subjects you didn’t even want to teach in the first place. The estimated time for planning of lessons will be up when you start planning for your own favourite subjects.

An ordinary day when you have planned all for today’s lessons and come to school early enough to have a cup of coffee with your teaching friends, you notice that your dear friend in the classroom next to yours is on sick-leave. You hope for her (it’s often a she!) soon being back, but you also realize that you will be the one to fill her position in class, ALTHOUGH you have a classroom filled with students, too… What can you do about it? Not much, really. Hmmmm… 55 kids instead of 27? What is my options for today’s teaching…? As I said, I had planned it all from the start, right? But NOW, I will have to just dump my own plan, and also probably dump my teaching friend’s plan, because I am ONE teacher with TWO classes… I HOPE that is history by now!!!

I taught in a school where our policy was to be our own ”subteachers” in a flexible system. Quality??? Excuse me… We didn’t discuss that topic much. It was more about money. But why wasn’t it just possible to find a teacher who would be in our regular staff as an extra resource? Money… Again… OK… Then if there is no way to hire a TEACHER…can’t we just find SOMEONE????

For way too long it has been possible for principals in Swedish schools to hire ”teachers” who lack the required qualifications for teaching. Qualified teachers have also for way too long been responsible for ”helping” those subteachers in their job, instead of  teaching their own students with high quality. But why complain? It can’t be that difficult to help a friend who know nothing about teaching, right? No, not if it would be ONCE or maybe TWICE, but if it’s the rule rather than an exception, then it’s not fair at all. It is unfair to the students, both in my class and in the class where the subteacher works. We are all losing focus from our ongoing learning proccess.

A possible scenario

You rush into your own classroom, inform the students that  you will have to start a lesson together with a subteacher in the nextdoor classroom and will be back soon. Then you help the subteacher to find books or material, tell the students to help the subteacher as much as possible, also inform the subteacher about students with special needs, such as diabetes or epilepsy. You also try to write a short list of important details, such as at what hour you take a break, when students leave for PE, or when lunch is served. In some schools there is a binder filled with ”all a subteacher needs to know”, but despite the binder, many subteachers may either not have time to read the information, or are completely new to teaching and have never been in this particular school. Sometimes they are 18 years old and lack every experience there is to ask for. You help this person the best you can anyway, because you know it will turn out for the worse if you do nothing at all. Luckily, many subteachers have been teaching for a long time and also know the students in a few schools in their local community quite well. Then the options for a win-win-situation is a lot better. OK…It’s time to rush back to your own class and start off what you had planned for! Guess what? The students haven’t started doing what you asked them to… Instead you need to re-start the activity and sometimes you will have a hard time getting every student’s attention again. When you finally think, ”Yes!” and your class seems to be focused again, you hear a knock on your classroom door… The subteacher needs more help…

The results for Swedish school children in PISA and other international tests have never been as poor as the last few years. In my opinion it is possible to explain the failure as a misuse of resources and a slow motion in change or maybe blame the many changes in our school system. When will there be time to focus on learning again?

I am happy to say that I rarely hear about problems like these nowadays. I am also happy to say that some of the subteachers I have been teaching side-by-side with were really nice persons who did a wonderful job. A certain blonde whom I tried to persuade to become a teacher, instead decided to become a nurse. The lucky patients know who I mean! 

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