Observations of an Artist & Pre-Service Teacher in Perth

by Alex from Maybe ( ) Together

natural objects 2It’s been a while blog.
Sorry. I haven’t found words to write with.
I moved to Perth.
And while I’ve been doing bits and pieces of art things.
I’ve also been studying my Masters in Primary Teaching.

I started hoping I’d fall in love with teaching and could fall-out of love of the all-consuming, not so well paid, away from home arts career I’ve put together.
This hasn’t happened.
I’ve found it frustrating in many ways.
For the same reasons many people do.
Also – art is part of who I am. That isn’t going to change.

Having had the privilege of working at ArtPlay and within the children and arts world for over 8 years now, I’ve seen some amazing projects and programs and been part of inspiring conversations.
I have found little inspiring in this course.
In fact here is a short list of the things I’ve found inspiring.
Nature Play WA & the Forest Schools
Studio Curious
Harvard’s Project Zero.
Maths & Dance with Creative Moves (admittedly this wasn’t through uni, but wanted to give them plug.)
Unfortunately these haven’t been at the core of the course. These have been periphery, incidental examples in lectures. And not mentioned on Pracs at all.
And, as an installation artist, I’ve been frustrated at the lack of consideration for the environment. I’ve even been shut down on it in lectures as not a core issue. (yes, I am that annoying mature age student!)

Essentially, I haven’t seen or heard anyone within the profession in a WA school talk my language. Until today. And it nearly broke my heart where I found it.

natural objects 2

I was a privileged child and went to a top-notch school in WA for primary and secondary school: MLC. While I haven’t always been comfortable with this fact, I do know that it grounded me in feminist ethics and really gave me the confidence that I was equal to anyone. I was semi-dreading a tour of this primary school (ready to feel uncomfortable about my privilege) as part of a unit studying technology.

This wasn’t actually what was addressed through. The primary school has been rebuilt from scratch and as part of this, the Dean and colleagues researched schools best practice. He talked of the importance of natural light, open and flexible spaces, variant spaces for children to choose to work in, not having too much work on the walls, the use of natural materials in the classroom as opposed to plastic and about the importance of integration of subjects to get through the material. The class sizes are max 22 students.

The spaces have huge glass doors that open out, children can choose if they want to work on standing desks, on the floor, on a couch. The teachers don’t have their own desk, but sit alongside students at any of the desks when needed. The furniture is ROUND. There are wood and glass objects and minimal plastic*.

The two city-based government independent schools I have done pracs at are in dongas, with 30 children and a budget of $500 for the year’s materials. The walls are covered in children’s work that is overwhelming to the senses. I feel stressed in these environments, let alone what the children must feel.

As a firm lefty, I was pretty set on working (if at all) in the government sector. Working regional, maybe even remote. But, this was the first school I’ve seen/heard about in WA that is on my page. And the first one where I thought, I could work here and be happy.

natural objects 2

Am sure there are underlying issues to address, but I was excited at the rigour and reflection occurring.

I am hoping I’m being overly cynical in saying that similar designs in the government sector are 20 to 50 years away. I hope that what MLC has achieved demonstrates the importance of design and space. That this influences the Education Dept in WA, or even nationally. That they get rid of those damn dongas! Provide quality spaces. Shrink the number of children in a classroom. Focus on empowering teachers, rather than trying to improve teacher quality by enforcing literacy and maths testing of them (!!)

What am I going to do about it? I have some ideas. But I honestly don’t think I’m the one able to change the education system. Thousands of us will need to. A culture shift. A break of the cycle.

Am going to try very hard to find the inspiration to battle the overwhelming-feeling.

This is a book that was mentioned as being pivotal to MLC’s design:
The Third Teacher.

Please share the good things with me. This will keep me sane.

x alex.

* It really shocked me when I started my masters at the lack of conversation about environmental issues. Their encouragement to purchase a laminator and use it all the time (you can’t recycle laminate). It completely dumbfounds me how people who work with children don’t think about their future and the fact that each piece of plastic will exist beyond their existence.