It’s no surprise! Talking education

We all like a surprise, right?

Well, you might say, that all depends on whether the surprise is a good surprise or a bad surprise.

A surprise is simply something unexpected, and everyday life is full of surprises; some so little they go almost unnoticed, others of larger more life-changing proportions. Some are pleasant and others far less so.

What got me thinking about surprises this week is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications.

Charli’s challenge this week is to

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows surprise without using the word. 

I have been thinking of all sorts of surprises I could write about but decided to maintain my focus on education.

There are many opportunities for surprises to occur throughout one’s education, which is not limited to (but probably, dare I say, by) one’s schooling experiences.

For example:

  • Discovering you can read a book, all by yourself
  • Discovering an author whose work you just can’t put down
  • Finding a solution to a problem that had seemed insurmountable
  • Achieving a favourable result in a dreaded test
  • Being offered a place in the course you were wanting
  • Having work accepted, valued and receiving payment


There are many situations in which the surprise could go either way.

For example:

  • Being called to the principal’s office
  • Having a parent-teacher interview about your own child, or student
  • Receiving exam results or course placement offer
  • Meeting a new teacher
  • Working in a group to solve a problem


Being a lover of stories, especially picture books, it is rare that a situation doesn’t trigger a thought connection to a story or book I have read.

Thinking about the good surprises and bad surprises that could happen in some of these situations made me think of a book I had read to my own, and classes of, children years ago. Maybe you will remember it also.

what good luck what bad luckThe book is What Good Luck! What Bad Luck! by Remy Charlip and relates a sequence of events alternating between good and bad.

It appears, from what I can find out, that it was first published by Ashton Scholastic in 1964 and sold for 60 cents.

Today Amazon has used copies on offer for $34.99 or $122 and a collectible as high as $157.70.

What good luck, I used to have a copy.

What bad luck, it is no longer in my possession.

I was at the stage of mentally composing my story with my fingers itching to get to the keyboard to translate it into print when I glanced at the morning paper1 and came across this headline:

Lesson 1: Bad teachers = bad results

As a teacher who is passionate about education but also critical of top-down force-fed schooling institutions, headlines/comments like these have me vacillating between defiant self- (and professional-) protection and agreement with the criticisms.

Teachers come in for a lot of criticism, some of it deservedly so, other of it not so much.

One quote I love is “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions”.

On the flip-side of this is “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”

While I take offense at this one, sometimes I am inclined to think it alludes to an important quality in a teacher. Frequently those who are expert at something, find it difficult to break a process into a series of steps that would enable an explanation to be easily understood by others. If one has struggled to master a task, the process can seem clearer and easier to explain. However there does come a point below which knowledge and experience must not fall or effective teaching cannot exist.

In her article Bad teachers = bad results, Kylie Lang says that

“C-grade teachers will not produce A-grade results”.

She says,

“Too many mediocre minds are becoming teachers. Universities usher them in, these academic underperformers who fail to qualify for courses with higher entry requirements.”

She says that

“A federal education department report shows a rise in the number of school leavers with poor grades being offered places on teaching courses. This year, 55 percent of Year 12 students that were allowed to undertake teaching degrees had an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank below the average . . .”

It is a bit scary, isn’t it?

She also says that,

“If we are a nation that values education . . . we must attract brighter, more creative thinkers to classrooms.”

I couldn’t agree more. However I wonder where they will get those creative thinkers if higher order thinking skills, creativity and innovation are sacrificed in the relentless quest for scores on academic tests which require students to spit back information forced upon them in hours of didactic instruction and rote learning.

It’s no surprise that anyone who maintains the ability to think outside the square would rather not return to it!

And so to my flash piece for this week, which comes with a warning – there’s no rhyme because there is no reason:


What luck!

No books, no talk were in the home.

What luck!

He was happy to play on his own.


School began when he was five.

What luck!

Learning from flash cards, how hard he tried.


“My boy can’t do it!” his Mum once wailed.

What luck!

With ‘forged’ test scores no child would fail.


Leaving school, the options were few.

What luck!

Teaching was the one he could do.


Uni years flashed by so fast.

What luck!

Number requirements meant he passed.


Then into the classroom he unprepared went.

No future joy for any student.

What bad luck!


I always enjoy reading your comments. I invite you to share your thoughts.



1 Courier-Mail, Sunday May 25 2014


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11 thoughts on “It’s no surprise! Talking education

  1. Pingback: Surprise! « Carrot Ranch Communications

  2. Charli Mills

    How amazing that a flash fiction topic can produce such a thought-provoking piece on education. Your commitment to the education of children is an obvious passion and I think this topic is so vital as educated nations navigate the choppy waters of modern education. Norah, you bring up a good point in your comments about teachers seeking to teach for reasons beyond pay. When I first went back to college as a mother of three young children, I thought that teaching English was a practical profession to choose because it would give me a working cycle that matched my children’s school cycle. But in semester one I had a good friend–a high school English teacher–invite me to her classroom to shadow her. In a single day I realized there was no way I could be a teacher! The biggest shocker to me was not how rowdy her students were, but how dispassionate. While it turned me off from teaching, that was exactly why she taught–the challenge of reaching hard to reach minds. I did know other students at college who were in the teaching track and they had to be just as bright and engaged in that program as in any other program. But I will admit, a great number of teachers that I know choose the profession because they can’t think of anything else to study at college. That doesn’t mean they will be poor teachers, though. I think the USA undervalues teaching, yet we have a striking education crisis–too much focus on test scores, failure to teach creative problem-solving skills, too much emphasis on technology and rote learning and not enough critical thinking. Wow, you did it again–got my mind going! Great inspired flash, too!


    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charlie, I really appreciate your comment. Of course I agree with the great summing-up you offered at the close of your comment. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking – these are all so important for life. Too much rote learning – we do need automaticity in a wide variety of skills but senseless repetition away from their application doesn’t help. It’s sad to think of people choosing teaching because they can’t think of anything else. But then I couldn’t conceive of anything else for me either. I could have used the word ‘think’, the same phrase as you did, but it would have had the opposite meaning to your use. That brings us back to words and writing again and the importance of what the reader brings to any piece of writing. Thanks for sharing Charli. I appreciate your comment. I’ve been popping about on a few other blogs tonight and read comments left by you – I don’t know how you manage so many. You are a great supporter of so many writers. Thank you.


  3. Annecdotist

    Great how you put this into flash, Norah, and enjoyed reading others’ comments on it too.
    I think all kinds of caring work is devalued, but especially for the young and old. Maybe because those who hold the purse strings aren’t bright enough themselves to recognise the skills involved as, when it’s done well, it’s invisible. I love the inventive ways you keep fighting for your profession


    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne, Thanks for popping over and leaving a comment. There have been some interesting comments to this one. I always enjoy the discussions. I think you are right about the caring industries being devalued. Because, as TanGental said, they require passion and commitment, those working in them are expected to do so much of it for “love”; which they do, but then it can become expected and unappreciated, and much of it, as you say, invisible. Thanks for acknowledging my fight. I tend to think it’s more for the children than the profession, but then, I guess, they go hand in hand. It’s all a work in progress!


  4. teagankearney

    I loved reading your lovely thought provoking post, Norah – the ideal teacher! For what my two cents are worth here are some (I’m sure there are a lot more I’ve not even thought of…) qualities I feel a teacher should have: 1. Crowd control (noted already by TanGental) because no matter how intelligent or learned you are, and no matter how well you can explain your subject, if the children aren’t listening, well, you’ll not get far. 2/3. Know your subject and how to teach it to someone who hasn’t one iota of the same God given abilities you have. 4. Be absolutely fair because children know if a teacher has favourites.
    As far as patience, resourcefulness and the ocean of other qualities we’d like our teachers to possess, all I can say is that each of us is a work in progress! I know schools are in the ‘business’ of education, but in my opinion, teaching, like nursing, is a vocation!


    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your comment. Crowd control, as both you and TanGental say, is a very important aspect of the day. We used to call it behaviour management. I’m not sure what they call it now. Buzz words change frequently in education. I used to call it establishing a positive supportive classroom environment where everyone is valued and supported. I agree with all your other points too. Interesting – I think few of these appear on any test papers! Maybe knowing your subject, but there is a good reason I decided to be a year one, rather than high school, teacher! 🙂 I love that you say each of us is a work in progress. That is so true – even of teachers. Thanks so much for sharing. I enjoyed reading your comment.


  5. TanGental

    I’m really an amateur here, thinking about teaching – but from my own experiences and, vicariously, through my children I would say that high test scores are far from the best determinant of a good teacher. I know that isn’t what you are saying, N, rather it is the implication from the article you quote. Many is the teacher my children scoffed at for being too smart. The ones they loved, and thus from whom they benefited the most, were the one’s who taught well. The old adage you quote, while necessarily rubbish, does make a point in that teaching is a skill in its own right, like writing, where there are a lot of techniques that can be learned but the best teachers, and writers, do it with a passion and commitment (and some innate talent perhaps). Personally I think the best teachers are those who want to be teachers, possibly from a long way back and, despite the vicissitudes of life and work, kept that passion alive. That said, if you are in front of a bunch of rowdy thirteen year olds, I guess crowd control can sometimes trump teaching. Lovely thoughtful post and neat flash.


    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I’m surprised you rank yourself as an amateur! Many people who have been to school or/and have children at school feel that those experiences qualify them as experts!! No seriously, though. I really appreciate your comment and agree that a high score on a test doesn’t necessarily make for a good teacher. It is that passion and commitment that does, as it does for writing. I think you are quite right about that. I’m still laughing at the use of GoT spoilers you mentioned while over at the Carrot Ranch. Would it work with rowdy thirteen year olds? Would/should they be watching it? I don’t think it would work with six year olds! (I hope not anyway!) Thanks for your positive comment on my post and flash! Much appreciated!


  6. Glenn

    Great read Nor. If only society would put some of the impetus it does for glamor industries such as acting into teaching. Maybe then teaching would get the respect (and pay grade) required to actually be an attractive industry for those bright folks who often look elsewhere. This is particularly worrisome when it seems that more and more parents think that it is the sole responsibility of teachers to educate their kids resulting in little education happening in the home.

    Teaching sure seems to be a labour of love and not much else! It must be so easy to blame the current quality of teachers for current education issues out of one side of your mouth while you sponsor cuts their funding out the other!!


    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for commenting Glenn. You have raised a number of issues there. Funding is an important one. While teacher pay is an issue, I think there are probably other things teachers would rate of greater importance. Perhaps that is because, as you say, it is a labour of love. Adequate resourcing and support personnel would be a great place to start, as would as less pressured and structured curriculum. I agree with you too about the need for parents to take a greater responsibility for the upbringing of their children. However many do not know any better, they are only doing what they know: parenting the way they were parented; and so the cycle continues. If community support could be provided to these young parents, teaching and modelling positive parenting skills, a lot of benefits would ensue for society in general.



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