Introducting Ian Van Biezen @ianvbz

Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?


I am currently a Pre-service teacher in my third year of my Primary Education Degree at Curtin University, in Perth Western Australia. I decided to become a teacher due to an experience I had in year 9. This experience started with a teacher who had know interest in seeing me succeed, when I asked a question about a concept he said “If you don’t get it, you never will.” In second semester, we got a new maths teacher, who completed a diagnostic assessment with me, designed an individual program for me and worked with me in each lesson. I was taken from a D to a B within one term. This to me is what teaching is all about.

During my experience at University, I have been fortunate enough to be apart of the leadership with program with Curtin Volunteers. In 2016, I had an opportunity to manage a team of volunteers working with a local Indigenous School assisting Indigenous students in improving their numeracy and literacy skills. I was involved in this program through 2016.

Last year I also completely my first practicum blocks, and worked with a year 6 class over 4 weeks, and continued to volunteer with the same school for a further 6 months once a week, I learnt so much and had the opportunity to work with mentor teachers with varied experience. One key area that stood out for me, was differentiation in learning I found this quite challenging at first when developing lesson plans. In the classroom I had an ESL, and a child with learning disabilities along with a gifted child. The success was so rewarding and I could really see these students thrive and I even had a parent state, “thank you for taking an interest in my child.”

This year, I am volunteering as a project leader with a small team at a local primary school each Wednesday, again helping students with numeracy and literacy. I am working with a year 1 class and take small groups and the most rewarding part of this, is the light bulb moment when they understand or get something, they are so excited. The opportunity has also provided with a good contrast between working with older and younger students. Currently, I take small group lessons working on their phonics and CVC words.

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

The children I work with and seeing them grow each week. I find even after a week of being away from them the change and growth I see is totally transformative, I am year 1 students are like little sponges, they absorb and remember everything. They are little people and having conversations with them and getting to know them is so rewarding. Teaching is about building those relationships and learning with them. I am continually surprised each week with the progress and change in the year 1 ones I am currently working with. I look forward to each week.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

This biggest rewards I see in teaching are the impacts teachers make on their students each day, teachers have the power to change lives each day, through building those key relationships, understanding a child’s background and catering for all students within their classroom. The opportunities to be able to teach throughout Australia in both metropolitan and regional centres with very diverse leaners are amazing opportunities and when I graduate I am considering a regional placement, as there is a great need in these areas.

The marketization and de-valuation, and neoliberalism is taking away the autonomy teachers once had in the classroom; de-valuing the profession; focus on standardized test outcomes, and not looking at the overall picture of how learning and student outcomes occur in the classroom.

Teachers are being undermined and the trust with teachers is diminishing within the classroom and community, because of the effects of NAPLAN, and my school’s website, with the teacher blame game becoming a political issue, rather than looking at the real issues occurring within our schools; the addressing of inequality for instance.

Teachers are now swamped with more admin, to justify their positions; which takes the focus away from teaching; and helping those students who need to most assistance, thus they continue to fall behind. Good leadership requires a climate of trust to be built and acknowledge teachers as capable autonomous professional, supportive of a collaborative environment and transparent.

With the advent of neoliberalism and marketization in schools, the teacher profession is slowly becoming de-graded, the way to drive change is to is for teachers and the community to begin thinking critically against the grain, so that the inequality in education can be narrowed further. NAPLAN, my school’s website is not focusing on the real issues facing disadvantaged students, and social issues are also not taken into account, these issues are at the forefront of teaching each day.

There is a focus on academic standards, rather than social justices, and their needs to be a balanced approach to both. Schools, particularly public are becoming a commodity, producing human capital; rather than focusing on “teaching”.

Within the school system, there seems to be a real disconnect between the requirements of administration and the objectives and goals of each teacher regarding their own professionalism and autonomy; a disconnect is occurring from the principal down –  causing much dissatisfaction from the teaching staff. In an ever-competing market, the focus is becoming more about academic achievement, high standards and expectations for both teachers and students; thus, placing pressure on the teachers. High stakes and high evaluation seem to be key components, and the focus is being lost on actual teaching, because of these high standards, academic success being pushed, are students from LSES being further left behind?  Autonomy it seems has been taken away from the school; it seems with the school case study “it is there way or the highway” whether it is working for students in your classroom or not”, with very clear programs and expectations in place from year to year, a cookie cutter approach.

This does not take into account the learning styles, cultural, social backgrounds of students; essentially if you are not getting the results at this school in your classroom, we will show you how. (Dictatorship?). Education is not about being the highest preforming school; but allowing all students to flourish regardless of their circumstances and allowing teachers the autonomy to do so. Furthermore, it seems if the teachers don’t conform or bring other ideas to the table, it can be frowned upon. The devaluating of teachers and the trust in them, cannot be good for school culture, pressure is being placed on teachers, with high level of surveillance, observations, and the monitoring of teacher practice, ensuring staff are committed to the school’s ethos.

Teachers are increasingly under pressure to produce the results; student outcome versus school outcomes, the sanctioning those teachers who are not preforming and ensuring their practice is adhering to the prescribed curriculum and standardized framework.

Every increasing accountability practices are becoming more demanding, produce stress and anxiety, generate a sense of fear and worry, which are systemic of a broken education system, and is a contributing factor to why teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates, Generating a fear of self-doubt and low confidence can affect a teachers ability to pass on learning to students, with that fear ever looming in their minds “What if I am not meeting the standards, will I lose my job, what if I have done my best, but I am still not like Mrs Jones next door”.

There seems to be a narrowed focus on pedagogies focusing on test preparation, rather than viewing the child as a whole picture, which NAPLAN my school’s website don’t take into account. Teaching requires a balance of both academic achievement and the development of social skills, therefore students may not succeed to the best of their abilities. Literacy and numeracy are fundamental and important skills for students to develop; however, there is the social and emotional issues to consider rather than just focusing on learning outcomes. There is an undermining of social needs occurring with schools now focusing on more corporate outcome based approach, rather than the individual student. Celebrating student achievement is one thing, but is the competitive nature being fostered creating further mental health problems in both students and teachers?

The problem with a corporate approach to learning, is that both students and teachers feel less relaxed, more stressed and causes a decline in a student’s attitude to learning.  There seems to be a focus on just “learning the content”, pressures to complete homework rather than allowing kids to be kids. Further problems arise within in this school, were it seems there is nowhere to move within the curriculum; there is a requirement that we differentiate to alter the curriculum, but they want it done all the same, it is a cookie cutter approach to teaching, which doesn’t meet all needs. Teachers are not encouraged to have a rationale for practice or account for the development of meaningful relationships.

In the world o Neo liberalism, many teachers now feel they are not being listened to on policy, with much of their input not being taken up, with decisions being made by administration. Teachers, are had the coal face each day, and see what occurs in the classroom, know their students and how to meet their needs; principals are not victims of a marketization of schools; with more of a focus on budgets school and student outcomes; and less focus on student and teacher needs.

Creativity is being stifled, there seems to be a culture of mis-trust, teacher autonomy, school democracy, and collegial staff relations – very evident on my practicum. The meetings are very much stand and deliver, with the attitude of “its our way or the highway” with many teachers avoiding the staff room and difficult conversations. Many schools now are adopting the market driven ideologies of efficiency, economy and competition, which is driving higher outcomes, and more accountability than ever before to maintain and keep that competitive edge. The marketization occurring in schools along with neoliberalism continue to undermine the professionalism of teaching; capabilities and autonomy; narrow pedagogy; and curriculum which sideline the other important areas of social and equity concerns.

A broader system of Governance is required –

The culture of education will only improve in Australia, when conditions are created the support and trust teacher’s judgements in the classroom; provide more autonomy and restore integrity within the profession, while literacy and numeracy are extremely important, there needs to be a greater focus on social relations and social justice imperatives.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I would really like to see NAPLAN and the my schools website dismantled. I am not a fan of standardized testing, as it its a ‘cookie cutter” one size fits all test. The test does not cater for the diverse range of students that teachers deal with including those with; learning difficulties, ESL and gifted students. The other issue I have with NAPLAN is the results can be manipulated, and with 10 years of NAPLAN and results flat lining, something is definitely not working and there is a continual blaming of the teachers. Teachers need to be given the autonomy back, and the Government, parents and community need to be able trust teachers to deliver the curriculum and assessment of their children, after all this is what we spend  4 years at University for.

What role do you see Twitter playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

Twitter is very much becoming away in which Australian teachers can network with each and learn and grow. Twitter is crucial way that Teachers can bring about change within the Australian education system through providing constructive and positive ways to drive change over social media that is so desperately needed. It is also an opportunity for Teachers to grow their own PLN and learn about current trends in Australian education, Twitter is like professional development 24 hours per day 7 days a week, forever active.

As a pre service teacher, I will be hoping to continue to grow my PLN and will base some of my questions and thoughts around advice for pre service teachers as well as thought provoking questions for in service teachers. I think some of the key focus areas will be classroom management, differential learning and digital technologies curriculum.


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