Modern classrooms

July 8th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Convincing parents their children learn better in open-plan classrooms with dozens of pupils and multiple teachers can be a tough sell for schools, a Christchurch principal says.

At Pegasus Bay Primary School all 420 pupils were part of shared teaching and learning spaces and principal Roger Hornblow said about 80 per cent of parents understood it.

The school’s new approach to teaching has been heralded as the way of the future by the Government – in direct contrast to the Labour Party’s policy announcement at the weekend of smaller class sizes.

“The same skills are still being taught but the way they’re being taught is different,” Hornblow said.

“Bringing ratios down to one teacher to 23 kids would be great but it’s not the world we’re working in.”

He said it was more than just three teachers working with 75 kids.

“It’s three sets of eyes picking up on any negative or off-task behaviour. It’s more help to answer questions, and the collaboration between staff is going on 24/7.”

This is very true. The future will not be one teacher with one class. It is about shared teaching and learning spaces. Teaching will be very different in the future to how we traditionally knew it. That is why the focus should be on training teachers better.

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44 Responses to “Modern classrooms”

  1. somewhatthoughtful (452 comments) says:

    That would still mean 25 per 1 teacher. You’re really grasping at straws here.

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  2. JC (909 comments) says:

    Heh.. when I was at primary school in the late 40s one teacher took all the primers in one room and a 2nd teacher took all the standards in another room.. back to the future!

    JC

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  3. SW (225 comments) says:

    When you travelled into the future what else did you learn? Could you please confirm that Germany wins the World Cup?

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  4. PaulP (142 comments) says:

    LOL, yep JC, back to the future.

    In 1976 I started at a primary school (Papakowhai) that was based on this model. Took my parents a long time to get their heads around it as was one of the first to mix the year groups in combined classes. I was even in a class with my older brother at one stage.

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  5. Kimbo (671 comments) says:

    Convincing parents their children learn better in open-plan classrooms with dozens of pupils and multiple teachers can be a tough sell for schools…

    Convincing parents their children learn better without concentrating slavishly on memorsing addition and multiplication tables is also a tough sell!

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  6. doggone7 (704 comments) says:

    “That is why the focus should be on training teachers better.”

    With all the training in the world will some people still not have the essential qualities?
    What are the essential qualities? Can they be trained into people?

    Is the most essential quality that the teacher do what they’re told, subjugate what their professional opinion says is best (according to their knowledge and wisdom) and obey the baying?

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  7. Kimbo (671 comments) says:

    Don’t lots of country schools already adopt a flexible open-plan approach mixing age groups and targeting particular lessons and parts of the curriculum accordingly?

    And I think I’m right country kids on average do better…

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  8. James Stephenson (2,037 comments) says:

    Convincing parents their children learn better without concentrating slavishly on memorsing addition and multiplication tables is also a tough sell!

    There’s still a strong emphasis on committing basic “facts” like times tables to memory. Some things don’t change or lose their value.

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  9. Judith (7,643 comments) says:

    @ Kimbo (595 comments) says:
    July 8th, 2014 at 9:14 am

    I believe country children do better to, however I’m sure there are many factors that contribute to that, other than just classroom size.

    Perhaps there are more ‘stay at home’ Mums in rural areas? Extended family living closer? Less distractions – simple things like noise from traffic etc, surely play a role in a child’s ability to learn.

    I have four children that were raised in a rural setting, and one raised mostly in an urban setting. The oldest four appeared to learn in an entirely different manner to the youngest, although place in family could have contributed to that (youngest being spoiled rotten, significantly older siblings not often home, and older parent’s that had ‘perfected’ their parenting style, where the other four was ‘learn as you go’).

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  10. Sonny Blount (1,845 comments) says:

    As long as we rely on ‘free’ state run education our teaching will remain ossified.

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  11. Mark (1,366 comments) says:

    Education policy is Labour’s one glimmer of hope in the upcoming election. Labour has no where else to turn to make any traction, it has lunatic political allies, weak economic policy and an idiot for a leader but Keys neglect of the Education portfolio worries me. Hekia is a train wreck waiting to happen, hopefully its not fatal

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  12. Judith (7,643 comments) says:

    I think the one thing that needs to be considered with education is that there is no ‘one size fits all’.

    Children vary immensely in the way they learn, due not only to individual personalities, but each has their own particular family situation and other such stressors that effects their learning ability. They also have different strengths and weaknesses.

    An efficient education system would be one that recognised those differences and worked on them to develop that child’s full potential (recognising that each child has a different level of potential, and not expecting them all to achieve the same, or have the same sort of talent). Whilst some might learn in an open environment, others might need a more structured one.

    The ideal is that each child develops into a healthy and competent adult that is able to be self-sufficient. If that means that one is a competent musician and the other designs computer programs, then so be it. Whilst specialty comes later in the education system, there still has to be a recognition of difference in the early levels in order for that child’s potential to develop.

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  13. Fisiani (953 comments) says:

    Labour are focusing on the quantity of teachers. 2,000 currently unemployed people they say will be added in. 2 students less in some classes. A $441,000,000 attempt to win some votes but predictably a huge waste of taxpayers money. The single most important factor in education is the quality of the teacher. Hekia Parata really understands this. National will invest in quality, quality, quality.

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  14. Redbaiter (7,640 comments) says:

    I just don’t get all these discussions on teaching.

    For decades teaching worked well and NZers were truly among the best educated people in the world.

    At that time there was no big discussions about class sizes and methods and teacher pay. The system just worked.

    Today our education standards have slipped and we seem to have problems in every area of teaching.

    What’s changed from then to now?

    I’ll tell you.

    The left gained control of education and have turned it into a collectivist indoctrination process. Its all about the politics rather than the education.

    That is the sole problem with education, and everything else is just smoke screening this reality.

    Get the left out of education and no matter the class sizes or any other issue, it will start working again.

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  15. Bill Courtney (143 comments) says:

    Just remember two things: first, this move towards “Modern Learning Environments” is still an experiment. It is not a given that this approach works better overall and especially for some children. Our local school has a double teaching space, i.e. 48 students and two teachers. Some kids loved it and others got lost. So, let’s keep an open mind on this style. It will not necessarily be “the way of the future”.

    Second, thanks to those who have pointed out that 75 divided by 3 = 25! Perhaps DPF might get around to working out that this would entail more teachers than are currently funded at the older age levels (years 4 to 6) , where the funding ratio, I believe, is 1 to 29. Feel free to correct me, if I’m wrong on that detail.

    The point being to this whole debate, is why can’t we put the politics aside and do both? Why do we always get presented with either/ors in these debates? Surely we want both smaller class sizes and better teachers and stronger leaders?

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  16. Harriet (4,524 comments) says:

    “…..There’s still a strong emphasis on committing basic “facts” like times tables to memory. Some things don’t change or lose their value….”

    Yep. You could teach a 12yld who had no concept of multiplication in less than a month. It’s basic stuff.

    But they’ed rather spend most of that time teaching them socialism.

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  17. doggone7 (704 comments) says:

    JC

    Some are travelling back to a time not as far back as your late 1940′s and not to country style schooling with multi-class levels in one room.

    They’re finding that the “back to the future” style is a thing called Open Plan classes!

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  18. Psycho Milt (2,267 comments) says:

    The future will not be one teacher with one class. It is about shared teaching and learning spaces.

    And National’s firm commitment to this bold, progressive vision is reflected in its cabinet ministers sending their kids to private schools that offer smaller class sizes…

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  19. Pete George (22,863 comments) says:

    “The point being to this whole debate, is why can’t we put the politics aside and do both?”

    During an election campaign? What school did you go to?

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  20. dime (9,461 comments) says:

    “The point being to this whole debate, is why can’t we put the politics aside and do both?” – says the guy who heads some left wing hate group lol

    “Surely we want both smaller class sizes and better teachers and stronger leaders?” – unless they are at a charter school!

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  21. Nukuleka (215 comments) says:

    As much as I support National’s education policies, as a teacher I thought that these absurd shared classroom theories were tried and found wanting in the 70s/ 80s. The last thing children need is to be in noisy open classrooms where teachers are ‘facilitators’. They’re chaotic. Having taught in the islands and also in largely Pasifika schools in Auckland my experience tells me that this type of environment will be the cause of further under-achievement particularly in Pasifika pupils. I’m also amused by the talk of ‘collaboration’ between teachers in such an environment. As anyone who has worked in the teaching profession knows, the notion of teacher collegiality and collaboration is largely an NZEI/PPTA myth.

    There is an appalling article on STUFF today on behalf of the NZEI/PPTA written by a female teacher extolling the virtues of New Zealand’s alleged ‘holistic’ teaching style and deriding the government’s National Standards policies. She seems to see it as a badge of national pride that our education policies and style should be somehow unique and have no connection with international practice! What planet is this woman on?

    I fear that this lady would applaud the backward step of the ‘open classrooms’ in Pegasus Town (where I doubt that you will find any Pasifika/ Maori pupils). Lots of noise, little real work being done and everyone thinks that ‘learning’ is going on. Bin there: done that.

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  22. m@tt (588 comments) says:

    Our local primary is around a year old and has three teachers per every two classes. It’s fantastic for the kids and I wish it could be rolled out to every school. I guess what we need is more teachers…

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  23. Kimbo (671 comments) says:

    @ James Stephenson & Harriet

    “…..There’s still a strong emphasis on committing basic “facts” like times tables to memory. Some things don’t change or lose their value….”

    Yep. You could teach a 12yld who had no concept of multiplication in less than a month. It’s basic stuff.

    But they’ed rather spend most of that time teaching them socialism.

    …as opposed to original thinking and problem-solving skills – which are the antithesis of rote learning?!

    I don’t dispute that the intent of rote learning was to furnish the young with the “building blocks”. However, in the days of calculators and spell-check I’m not convinced that is such a high priority. Also, while there is some value, I’m not so sure in most cases there is a logical production-line flow from the “building blocks” to functional use as was assumed in the rote-learning of yesteryear.

    @ Judith

    I believe country children do better to, however I’m sure there are many factors that contribute to that, other than just classroom size…

    Indeed. And you subsequently make some valid points. All of which highlight the silliness of aiming for a particular teacher:pupil ratio. As I posted a few days ago, in my idealistic and uninformed youth I did letter box drops of Labour Party election leaflets in 1984 when a key selling point in their manifesto (what little they had that year!) was a bottom line promise of 1:20 in classrooms.

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  24. Harriet (4,524 comments) says:

    Surely teachers would repeat some of the wisdom that good parents have, into some of the other kids in the class. That’s the difference that would matter most I’d think.

    But they’re not of the real world. They went to school, then to teachers college, then back to school.

    Short tracking qualified and experianced people from the private sector into teaching is the way to go I’d think. Aussie are doing it – or about to start it. 1yr at uni from memory.

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  25. Judith (7,643 comments) says:

    The other point I would like to make is that we seem to be constantly putting the emphasis on education with the schooling and qualified teacher lead environment.

    Parents are the primary teachers in a child’s life.

    I believe children are biologically geared to learn from their parents from birth, and therefore it is that relationship that should be encouraged to be the most important learning aspect of a child’s life. Formal education should be secondary to this, should fill in the gaps that the parent’s can’t provide, however, I believe we need to emphasize to parents that the basic responsibility for their children to develop into self sufficient adults, rests with them, and stop this idea that if our child fails, it is the teachers who are to solely to blame.

    It is in my opinion just another cop out for self-responsibility to continually put the emphasis on the government to provide what should come as part of parental responsibility. It is again allowing the mindset of ‘don’t worry, the government will take care of it’.

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  26. Pete George (22,863 comments) says:

    Selling smaller class sizes – easy.
    Selling better quality teachers – hard.
    Selling bad/parents=bad education, better parents=better education – too hard basket.

    …coincidentally following Judith’s comment.

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  27. SW (225 comments) says:

    Hi Nulkuleka – you sound like a sensible person.

    What do you think of Labours education policy, including the smaller classes proposal?

    On the flip side? Do you think of some form of performance pay will result in a better standard if teaching across the board?

    More generally, how do you rate NZ’s current education system in relation to international models?

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  28. Ross12 (1,152 comments) says:

    Judith @ 9.31

    I agree with your comments and they also support the concept of charter / partnership schools as well.

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  29. Harriet (4,524 comments) says:

    “………..Also, while there is some value, I’m not so sure in most cases there is a logical production-line flow from the “building blocks” to functional use as was assumed in the rote-learning of yesteryear……”

    Kimbo.

    So they should be much better at puncuation and grammar than me then – with all that extra time?

    And algebra.

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  30. Kimbo (671 comments) says:

    @ Harriet

    Short tracking qualified and experianced people from the private sector into teaching is the way to go I’d think. Aussie are doing it – or about to start it. 1yr at uni from memory.

    Sir John Graham was arguing for that three years ago, as follows: -

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/education/news/article.cfm?c_id=35&objectid=10740799

    “We need to be far more pro-active and bold in attracting, retaining and rewarding high quality teachers. Our current teacher recruitment, training and remuneration arrangements are not attracting and producing the quality of teachers we need and should be rigorously reviewed, including the current certification standards required, which in our view are too low.

    However, much can be achieved by enlightened incentive payments, including the universal adoption of a lead teacher scale for talented teachers not wishing to take on promotion and responsibility beyond the classroom.

    Much can also be achieved by attracting talented, graduates into the profession, through proven, in-school accreditation schemes, such as Teach for America or Teach First in the UK. As a result of the current economic recession, we have a golden opportunity to attract more broadly experienced graduates into teaching, especially males given the current large gender imbalance; but we must be prepared to adopt bold initiatives to achieve that”.

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  31. wreck1080 (3,734 comments) says:

    I just don’t see what was wrong with the teaching styles I had in the 80′s.

    My children are going to primary now, and I don’t believe their teaching has been any better than mine. Despite 30 years of reforms that were supposed to improve.

    In fact, in some ways their experience has been worse as teachers don’t seem to put as much emphasis on things like times tables. Fortunately we are good parents and drill these into our children outside school hours.

    iPads in classes don’t help education — they distract.

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  32. Kimbo (671 comments) says:

    @ Harriet

    So they should be much better at puncuation and grammar than me then – with all that extra time?

    Actually, as per the argument of George Bernard Shaw, I’m not sure “accuracy” of spelling and punctuation (which in many cases was codified to reinforce class differences, and enshrine an educational priesthood) is that much of a priority. And English is a shocker as the spelling is non-phonetic.

    And the modern use of text is making language much more fluid anyway- almost returning it to the time before dictionaries. Like it was in the time of Shakespeare. And i don’t seem to recall a lack of standardised spelling held him back…

    If you can understand what a writer means then exact spelling and removing split infinitives (“to boldly go”) are not a priority.

    So it seems to me the priority should be on teaching kids to think well, and express themselves sufficiently via the building blocks. But the building blocks are simply that – a means to an end, not the end in itself. While they still have some place, fussing over knowledge of multiplication tables or hand-writing styles as was the case when I was at primary school some 35-40 years ago hardly seems like a worthwhile priority

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  33. doggone7 (704 comments) says:

    Redbaiter: “I just don’t get all these discussions on teaching. For decades teaching worked well and NZers were truly among the best educated people in the world. At that time there was no big discussions about class sizes and methods and teacher pay. The system just worked. Today our education standards have slipped and we seem to have problems in every area of teaching.
    What’s changed from then to now? I’ll tell you.”

    I’ll tell you too.

    For decades we let teachers get on with it. We said “you know best – just do it.” And away they went and everyone said what you said – “we were truly among the best educated people in the world. ”

    Now we tell them we know best, everyone is an expert except them, they must listen to all the blog site blather and they must take heed of all we tell them.

    But the ones who know the very best of course are politicians. What they know best though is how to harness the disaffection of those who think they know best but who in fact know very little.
    There it is in a nut shell.

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  34. Martin Gibson (227 comments) says:

    I find it astonishing that these discussions on class size don’t include the number of kids in the average kiwi classroom with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. If we can work on reducing the proportion of those kids in each class who occupy teaching time with discipline and distract other kids it would be worth a ten child class reduction per kid.
    This reluctance originates in the feminist narrative that the unborn child is a foreign body in a womyn’s body and any effort stop stop her wrecking the future of that child is more patriarchal oppression.
    I was equally surprised watching Firstline that the reporter didn’t bother to ask the PPTA president who was gushing over Labours education policy about their donations to and control over the Labour Party as if it were not relevant.

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  35. itstricky (1,571 comments) says:

    That is why the focus should be on training teachers better.

    Quite right – focusing on No. 107 on the list of important stuff is a waste of money. Can we scrap all the new No. 107 overheads quickly so that we can funnel that money back into teacher training?

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  36. itstricky (1,571 comments) says:

    Now we tell them we know best, everyone is an expert except them, they must listen to all the blog site blather and they must take heed of all we tell them.

    Reminds me again of that classic KB post where DPF posted “the workmen at the end of the road have got a stupid traffic management system of XYZ – they should do ABC”. To which someone, who was in the business, said “no, they do it as XYZ because of blah blah blah – it’s deliberate”

    And that’s something as simple as MOW, not something as complicated and wrought with non-logical human behaviour like Education…

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  37. Paulus (2,503 comments) says:

    For a start make it non compulsory for Teachers Employers to take Union Fees from the Employees (Teachers) and pay this to the Unions. If Teachers want to belong to the Union then they should make arrangements themselves.

    Really make this in all Union cases where the Employee can decide whether they wish to be a Union member.

    Many lower paid employees will be a few dollars better off.

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  38. Jack5 (4,595 comments) says:

    Will a million computer tablets, open classrooms, and more highly trained teachers match Maria Montessori’s system, which is almost a century and a half old?

    A few Montessori graduates:

    Larry Page and Sergei Brin, founders of Google.

    Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.

    Will Wright, original designer of the Sim City computer games.

    Management theorist Peter Drucker.

    US President Woodrow Wilson.

    Gabriel Garcia Marqez, Nobel Prize winning novelist.

    Cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

    Prince William and Prince Harry.

    Brin and Page, asked the secret to their success by Barbara Walters in a 2004 TV interview, specifically pointed to the curriculum of self-directed learning – where students follow their interests and decide for themselves what they want to learn.

    Page added:

    I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently…

    Brilliant!

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  39. Redbaiter (7,640 comments) says:

    “What they know best though is how to harness the disaffection of those who think they know best but who in fact know very little.”

    One of my friends has a child about 14 years old who helped me with the shopping a while ago. On arriving home I saw the docket and said “wow, that seems like a lot for those few items” and passed the docket to him and asked him to check it. It only had about 6 or 8 items on it.

    Now the boy is quite smart. He’s well brought up. He goes to what is considered a quality school.

    He couldn’t add in his head the list of shopping items.

    So fuck you mate. Don’t tell me that I am being duped by politicians when the reality is right there for anyone to see. And its not something unusual. Thousands of our kids can’t add up because you communist zombies posing as teachers have perverted education into a system that helps get left wing and racist politicians elected rather than educates.

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  40. Rightandleft (638 comments) says:

    I’m not a fan of these so-called modern learning environments, at least not as a model for the entire system. I’m sure they do work better for some students and therefore it is good that schools using that model exist, giving parents the choice of sending their children to them. However at least in secondary I would find it incredibly distracting as a teacher and a student to have multiple different subjects being taught in the same area. And the idea of making the teacher a facilitator of learning assumes intrinsically motivated and self-directed students. I run one class on this model, a creative and critical thinking class for gifted Year 10s and it works for most of them just fine. But that doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Some children need the basics, they need to memorise times tables and such and they need the structure of the traditional classroom to focus. There are schools now which use these methods in secondary and so far they have not been achieving stunning results. It is way too early to declare them the future for all schools.

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  41. notrotsky (62 comments) says:

    And in the separate reality that is The Standard banning all private schools, guillotining and equalising family income is the solution……… I don;t think i’ve ever read a more bizarre thread over there, some of the comments make me feel physically ill.

    http://thestandard.org.nz/the-real-aims-of-nationals-education-policy/

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  42. doggone7 (704 comments) says:

    Relying on an uneducated 14 year old who has suffered at the hands of communist zombies posing as teachers who have perverted education to do your adding up for you after you didn’t realise how much you’d spent suggests something else.

    Dig up your old teachers from whichever decades and pour some scorn on their communist zombie skeletons for your ending up in that lamentable situation.

    Then maybe reflect on my experience of the USA in the ’70s and the shock of money being handed over to get into events, buy programmes etc. and the amount of change having to be worked out on machines because they were incapable of doing the maths in their heads.

    I’m still waiting for the apologies from those who were duped into believing that everything about the USA and education was brilliant, that we should be copying them and then it foisting their ways on us. We end up with their results and the idiots who wanted us to copy now complain that thousands of our kids can’t add up. It wasn’t communist zombies posing as teachers who did that.

    And of course the best next thing is charter schools!

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  43. Steve (North Shore) (4,499 comments) says:

    Training Teachers better will only work when tin foil hats are banned.
    Atm
    National = Bad
    Labour = Good
    Unions = extra good

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  44. Disaster Area (36 comments) says:

    If you want an answer as to why it is difficult to recruit people into teaching, look at the tone of some of the ad hom attacks and the language used to describe teachers on the education threads here.

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