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Now we're teaching on autopilot

By Graham Parr - posted Monday, 20 November 2006

Sarah is a pre-service English teacher about to graduate. Like all pre-service English teachers she is developing a complex web of knowledge and skills, something she will continue to develop throughout her career.

Earlier this year, Sarah had a disquieting teaching experience. She taught the latest in "direct phonics" lessons to a group of secondary school students in Melbourne who were deemed to need remedial help.

The lesson was completely scripted for Sarah. In a foretaste of what is in store for students in the centralised curriculum model currently described by neoconservative politicians and media pundits, it was a one-size-fits-all lesson that could be taught anywhere across the nation, at any time.


In one 35-minute period of "teaching", every word that Sarah spoke, the precise time at which she delivered these words, and even the hand signals to accompany the words, were all tightly scripted.

When Sarah talked with me (her English education lecturer) some time after this experience, she had mixed emotions. After an exhausting week of planning, teaching, marking, staff meetings, in-service activities and much more, this scripted curriculum seemed a welcome relief. "I didn't have to think," she said.

She laughed, although it was clear she was still ambivalent about the experience. Then she asked: "But what sort of teaching is it when I'm not required to think?"

Indeed. At a time when neo-conservative commentators and politicians are touting the benefits of an efficient, centrally controlled curriculum, where decision making at the local level is taken out of the hands of teachers and schools, Sarah's story should give us cause to reflect.

Parents might well ask: Is this the sort of curriculum we want for our children? Do we want our children taught by a teacher who is not required to think?

In 2005, Professor Alan Reid (University of South Australia) published a report for the Federal Government, Rethinking national curriculum collaboration: towards an Australian curriculum. This report makes interesting reading in the light of recent debates about a national curriculum. Professor Reid's vision of a collaborative national curriculum, which still recognises the value of teachers' local knowledge, is a long way from the efficiency models being proposed.


Despite platitudes from politicians about teachers being "national treasures", it is clear the push for a restrictive national curriculum comes, in part, from a profound lack of respect for teacher professionalism. In short, teachers are not to be trusted.

As a teacher educator, I work with English teachers-to-be and practising English teachers across Australia. My knowledge of these teachers just does not square with the attacks on the teaching profession that have been launched by conservative politicians and commentators as justification for an efficient, restrictive national curriculum.

There is Natalie, an early-career English teacher, whose year 11 class is studying William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Building on the multi-modal texts (words and illustrations) that Blake originally published, Natalie's students have just submitted their own large-scale hypertexts. These hypertexts include interconnected biographical, analytical and creative texts that they developed in response to Blake's poetry.

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First published in The Age on November 13, 2006.

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About the Author

Graham Parr is a lecturer in the faculty of education at Monash University and a member of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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