• Testing Teachers debuts on SBS on 19 April. (SBS)Source: SBS
Former teacher Shane Cubis reflects on how vastly different schooling is for the kids of today than his own pre-Internet, 90's education.
Shane Cubis

13 Apr 2017 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2017 - 10:31 AM

Education is one of those topics everyone feels comfortable about expressing an opinion on, because everyone went to school and remembers those good old days of slates, inkwells, mercurochrome on scabby knees, and the smell of those purple stencils. Yeah, well things have changed since you tanned your legs behind the quad and dreamt of pashing Terry from East 17. Today’s high school culture is as alien as the idea of being able to quit in Year 10 to pursue an apprenticeship...  

Assignments aren’t what they used to be

For starters, you don’t have to worry as much about your handwriting until suddenly you’re in an exam situation and your atrophied claw cramps up within 10 minutes. Now students have access to Wikipedia and Google, not to mention keyboards and printers. But with great power comes great responsibility.

“I think kids are expected to do a lot more,” says one teacher I recently spoke to. “The biggest push in schools is formative feedback. For one of my classes, students have to submit two sets of drafts to be marked before they even sit their final test on a subject. Student self-reflection is also encouraged and regularly embedded into programming. Junior students had to create a visual presentation this term, which included reflection statements that required them to think about how they composed their work in terms of the use of visual and literary techniques such as symbolism, reading paths, vectors and salience.”

Snapchat makes it easier to forge connections... and get into trouble

It’s no revelation that social media has changed the way teenagers interact, but it’s worth mentioning. Befriend anyone with a “1” in front of their age on Snapchat or Instagram, and you’ll see an endless litany of casual-seeming no-big-deal selfies that took many, many drafts to get juuust right. That seems harmless, but it means there’s no solace or escape from the crowd’s gaze – you can’t lie in your room listening to music or drawing, safe from the clutches of bullies.

And that’s before we consider the ease of sending nude photos.

Back in my day (sorry), you needed a Polaroid camera or absent-minded photo developer to have a lasting record of a classmate’s naked body. “We have police liaisons come and warn our girls about not sending nudes,” says our teacher.

Social media is also important for teachers

If you thought all this focus on maintaining online connections was all on the students’ side of the desk, think again. “From a teacher’s point of view, PR is massive at our school,” explained my teaching acquaintance. “My principal gives me a period allowance to maintain media. I keep our website updated, and we have a Facebook page that is updated daily.” Of course, friending students as a teacher is against departmental policy, at least in NSW, and even connecting with siblings of students is frowned upon.

Expectations are heightened – and so is competition

“The expectations on kids are massive compared to my schooling,” revealed the teacher. “Parents are far more competitive, so I do think kids take school more seriously. There are lots of Year 12 kids at my school who are regularly managed by a welfare team: a Year Advisor, Head Teacher Welfare, and Counselor. Many of them have breakdowns due to workload.”

On the positive side, these resources are in place to help students deal with a world where getting into uni can seem like the only option: “We have three afternoons a week with a homework centre in our library, fully catered for – approximately 40-60 students turn up. We have holiday workshops, run by teachers, that all Year 12 students are encouraged to attend.”

And attention spans are shrinking

There are more changes coming down the pipe, a primary school teacher explained to me: “Our attention spans have gone from 11 seconds down to eight seconds, which is less than a goldfish – having serious implications for learning.

I’m seeing many more children come through with a sensory processing disorder (13 out of 14 kindies this year). We have also seen a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression along with other mental health disorders in our children and more of them are hitting out – you know, that bullying we see all over social media – which is actually children who are constantly ‘heightened’ reacting from a fight-or-flight response.”

Testing Teachers features six teachers and three public schools, all with one aim: to make a difference in young lives. The documentary debuts 19 April on SBS and will be available on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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