Where has all the fun gone?
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Miss Sharpe was my teacher in Years 5 & 6. She may have taught many other kids, but for me, at that point, she was mine. She truly ‘got me’ and made me feel seen and so treasured. I became a teacher in the hope that I could be that one magical person in someone else’s life. Funny thing, now that I’ve reconnected on social media with other students in that class, it seems like I wasn’t the only one who felt special and treasured, and who looks back on those two years with Miss Sharpe as a kind of nirvana.
Maybe it was because we had been selected from all across the city for a ‘gifted’ class, maybe it was because it was the late 70's and there wasn’t the huge focus on standardised curriculum and accountability, maybe it was because unbeknownst to us she battled with admin behind closed doors to teach the her kids (& we were her kids) the way she believed we could be taught. I don’t know, I just know that she let us fly.
Fast forward to when I first started teaching in a primary school – things were still pretty free. Yes, I had to submit planning and write reports, but I was still encouraged to design the learning lives of the kids in my class based on the learning needs of the kids in my class. And I had the time and support to think creatively about what and how I could support and inspire these kids to enjoy their learning throughout the school day.
The crowded curriculum, data, accountability, testing, rubrics, the constant rush, these all seem to be common themes when you speak to teachers today. Add in the growing epidemic of stressed, anxious, hyper-timetabled kids, and the joy seems to have disappeared from many classrooms and schools. Many ‘celebration of learning’ events feel more like a marketing opportunity celebrating competition and perfectionism.
This week was CBCA Book Week. I’ve taught in P-12 schools almost my entire career, and the absolute joy that permeates a school as everyone, from the tinniest Preppies, to the almost adult Year 12s, and staff too, plays dress-ups and celebrate reading, is absent. There are a couple of posters hanging around and that seems to be about it. And I miss it. My students miss it too. And they miss time in their day just to read for pleasure.
Then I received an email from a concerned mum. In primary school her daughter was a voracious reader who wrote vibrant and creative stories and poems. She also was an A student in English. Now, less than a year later, she barely has time to read, she’s stopped writing and now she’s on C’s for English. Assessment has morphed from creative writing and literature circle discussions to analysis and formal written response to set texts.
So where am I going with this? It seems to me that yet again I am circling back to the place of the library in a school. Thankfully, Library is not (yet) an assessable subject.
We are free to design our libraries in response to our students.
We can create a vibrant reading culture -or we can shush. We can chat with kids about what they are reading, make and receive recommendations, celebrate books and reading – or we can shush. We can provide a creative hub where students can create – podcasts, vodcasts, book trailers, fan fiction, story writing – or we can shush. We can provide a place where students can gather to play board games, electronic games, chat about their games, create new games – or we can shush. We can provide the opportunity and materials for students to create and build using traditional or new technologies – or we can shush. We can provide the school equivalent of coffee shop culture, where people gather to research, share and discuss ideas - or we can shush.
In an era where we are surrounded by overwhelmed, over-timetabled students, the library should be the heart of the school, the joyful heart.
All photos not attributed are author's own.