A letter in ‘The Australian’ on August 29 2019 from Bill Pannell sums up a growing deficiency among students. Pannell writers

“TV report of recent NAPLAN test results suggests a deficiency and continued deterioration in writing skills in Australian high school students.Video footage accompanying these reports makes the reason for this problem obvious: a sort of back-hand claw-like grip of pens and pencils.

Surely some basic instruction in the use of a writing implement would produce improvement in this area?”

Mr Pannell’s letter hits the nail on the head; that the ability to hold a writing tool comfortably and write with wrist and finger authority and control is fast becoming a lost skill. The skill of handwriting used to be taught in school. Handwriting lessons were part of the curriculum.

My urging and heartfelt pleading to graduating teachers is to research and reinstate handwriting lessons as a part of their teaching operation. Handwriting is vitally important and the ability to handle writing tools with authority and comfort should be reinstated. Handwriting lessons should never have been dropped.


There is a lot of debate these days about whether or not handwriting should be taught at school. In some countries, including Finland and the United States, handwriting has gone by the by. Rather than being taught how to use a pen, all students are given the opportunity to learn keyboard skills including touch typing.

While trying to understand why this change has occurred I would be the very last person to advocate that handwriting should become a skill of the past. Rather I believe that it should endure forever.

I am certainly not down on keyboards and computers. But for children to have both handwriting and keyboards is optimal. To become mono skilled with handwriting going out the door would be altogether wrong. There are many many occasions in life when handwriting is important and indeed the only written communications method available.

When teaching handwriting, the “3 P’s” rudiments immediately comes to mind. That has to do with the methodology of writing. It is about;

* pencil or pen hold

* paper position

* posture – the way we sit in order to write most effectively and comfortably.

Stressing these things over and over again until they become habitual is important.

Part of handwriting is teaching children how to hold a pen or pencil so that it is comfortable and their fingers and wrists don’t ache. Watching people write these days can be quite a torturous experience because of the way in which writing tools are held. It’s obvious from observation that many people have never been taught how to write. That is an absolute pity.

The size (diameter) of pencils and then transition from pencil to pen is a part of writing graduation. Initially pencils are thick and as children grow older with more dexterous finger management the diameter of the pencil become smaller. When a reasonable agree of writing skill has evolved, then is the time to move on to pans. That is usually around year four to year five. Children love graduation to pens and having pen licenses issued to them by teachers.

Lined size is a part of learning to write. The younger child the bigger the line. 1 inch lines (30mm) are generally the starting point going down to around 12 mm by the time children get to the end of middle and the commencement of the upper primary years. Handbooks and exercise books can be purchased where lines are divided into thirds. This helps children when it comes to tall letters (t, f,) and letters having tales (g, y q,). The dimensions associated with writing can be trained with children developing that discernment over time. Over time, the one third divisions can be left and children go to straight lines for their writing activities.

These days specific handwriting lessons are often not offered in class. Or it may be that there is a handwriting text where children simply open and copy what’s written for them. I believe that those texts are enhanced by use of a transcription book and also with teachers demonstrating letter formation, joins, words and so on the whiteboard. The idea of children learning by copying really helps when it comes to handwriting development.

The way paper or writing books are positioned helps when it comes to the slope of letters. Writing from left to right is part of this and can be difficult particularly for left-handed children. Left-handers tend to “drag” their arms across pages as they write from left to right meaning that dog ears and crumpled pages become the norm. Train children as they finish a line of writing to lift their arm going back to the start of the

And then working across the page from left to right that overcomes the shuffling of arm on paper that can occur if this is neglected.

Steadying the paper or page onto which writing is being done helps. For this purpose the spare hand can be used. So often it is seen propping up children’s heads as they write where that writing is the task of one hand alone. Rather than the spare hand being a head prop, metaphorically describe it as an anchor which holds the boat (paper or book) steady against the wall so that it doesn’t rock back off fourth, or similar. This will involve a lot of reminding and correction easily seen as being in need of remediation when teachers are walking around classrooms.

Support children with lessons as a transition from printing to writing script style. Linked script is part of this and it does take time to teach. Little and often is important and I would suggest a handwriting lessons every day.

Remember to comment on handwriting and praise the effort that students put in to the script. Be they printing or writing this praise will help.

Handwriting is so important. It needs to be revived not neglected.



CONSIDER SKILLS YOU MAY NEED: Practical Benefit Ideas (8)

If going to a remote location or isolated community to teach, consider the following.

    Learning or knowing how to cook using tinned fruit and vegetables may well be an advantage. Tinned products are often more readily available than fresh produce. A concern about fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and meat can be its age and condition by the time it arrives in local stores.
    Knowing how to make bread, cook cakes and make biscuits can help.
    A frypan, bread making machine and croc pot are versatile and practical cooking aids.
    Having a contract person or business in a city or large regional town can help when it comes to organising necessities that may be in short supply or which become unavailable locally. With this would be an arrangement covering ordering and paying for goods.


Previous posts have offered some pointers that may well help those contemplating or preparing to work in remote communities. It is important for those going to teach in more remote schools to be well prepared for life and living in their new locations.

Please accept this from one who, with his family, has been there and done that.



These items might sound like a trite listing, but without them (and if they are not available for local purchase) life can become a lot harder. ‘Making do’ is not the answer.

Consider purchasing and taking items including the following when going to a distant or remote teaching appointment.

  1. nail clippers,
  2. hair cutting scissors,
  3. sufficient comfortable clothing (serviceable and practical without being over the top fashion wear or ragged, torn and stained clothing),
  4. a good supply of underwear,
  5. hats,
  6. sunscreen,
  7. deodorants,
  8. insect repellent,
  9. shower accessories,
  10. items relating to personal hygiene,
  11. other personal essentials sufficient to meet basic needs.
  12. These will tide new staff over until they are able to ascertain the local availability of these and other essentials.
  1. Footwear, with a strong recommendation on practical, sturdy and protective shoes or light boots.

Don’t wear thongs to work as a teacher.

The standards teachers set is a part of the way in which they will be appreciated and respected by the community.




Knowing HOW to teach is important.

Will teachers be told if there is a better way of covering particular classroom issues.

Do assistant teachers have the confidence to work with teachers in a team sense that covers this need.

Teachers coming into communities need to understand the responsibility of modelling. History reveals that community leaders are keen for teachers to respect and to live according to their basic cultural precepts. To this end, the expectation is that teachers will live by their inherent cultural principles and not abrogate or water down these standards and expectations.

These things would include :

    Being time conscious and not cribbing on school day time expectations.
  1. Sticking to agreed school rules.
  2. Living by firm cultural principals of verbal respect and politeness.
  3. Speaking appropriately, using standard grammar and enunciation.
  4. Being a careful listener.
  5. Respecting Indigenous culture.
  6. Dress appropriately and respectfully; understand modest dress codes.
  7. Ensuring teachers have essentials before going to the community.


How interesting to read and to hear about another salvo into the realm of trying to attract our brightest and most gifted students. Outstanding graduates will make brilliant teachers and uplift the standard of teaching for the benefit of students seems to be the thinking.

“Our top teachers aren’t becoming teachers and that matters” is the subject of a leading paper in today’s ‘The Conversation’. Co-authors Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann suggest the bright young ones are giving teaching a miss. “They are interested in teaching, but when it comes to the crunch they choose professions with better pay and more challenge.”

A package of incentives is proposed that focus on extrinsic reward.

With respect, the authors miss the point and in my opinion by a wide margin. There is also an inference that the teachers we have in our schools are second best and recruitment needs to be fixed. That could be construed as a put down on those teaching students in our schools.

The first ‘missed’ point is that those contemplating teaching may becoming well aware of the increasing challenges teachers face when it comes to disciplining and managing students. Deliberately disinclined, disrespectful and aberrant student behaviours are commonplace. That is a problem growing in all schools and at all educational levels.

A corollary attaching to this issue is that teachers are having to manage a growing complexity of student abilities. Special education needs have to be managed within standard classrooms and that because of mainstreaming policies. While support assistants are employed to help, their capacities are often restricted by a number of factors.

The second issue is that of administrative and paper management responsibilities that have attached to and are being dumped on teachers at a level that is almost exponential.

Testing, measurement, evaluation and recording tasks prioritised by the system take increasing amounts of time and distance teachers from their students.

Teachers become desk bound, absorbed with data inputting. Students in turn are set tasks that have the computer rather than the teacher as their guide. For many teachers these requirements become dispiriting and off-putting.

Sadly, too few people want to address these issues. They bubble away. The joy of teaching is similarly leached from the souls of teachers.

These are the issues that need addressing. The Grattan Study is a study of peripheral matters rather than dealing with the substance of the issue.




Things you need to consider before accepting remote area appointments.

Is there any pre-existing formal agreement that has been drawn up to cover the living and working expectations held by the community for staff. Does this include expectations held by teachers and other appointees for the way in which they will be regarded and treated within the community.

Are there expectations held for or demands placed on teaching staff after hours and at weekends.

Is it possible for staff to access town’s or regional centres during weekends by road or air. If by air, what are the costs associated with RPT (regular passenger transport) routes or airplane charter


At all levels of the educational hierarchy, from the newest to the oldest, from bottom to top organisational position, educators tend to speak two languages.

* Neophyte teachers when speaking with other newbies, tend to speak differently to the way they converse with older, more experienced peers.

* Classroom teachers when speaking with each other, tend to communicate differently than they so when talking with senior teachers or unit leaders.

* Senior teachers/unit leaders discourse differently to each other as peers, than they do when communicating with assistant principals/principals.

* Assistant Principals have a conversational fraternity that is often not shared with their immediate superordinates, their principals.

* Principals when in discourse speak with a familiarity that generally does not translate to the conversations they hold with directors and departmental seniors.

* Those in departmental support roles have similar communications limitations that shape and limit conversation, based on their level of seniority in school support positions.

At each discrete level, I refer to conversations as being ‘above the table’ or ‘below the table’.

* Conversations ‘above the table’ are those shared by subordinates with superordinates. They are qualified, with those at the lower hierarchical level often tailoring what they say top fit with the expectation of what they think those in superior positions want to hear. They are expressions from the head rather than statements from the heart. They are based on saying the right thing in order to get on, staying safe and secure within the organisation.

* Conversations ‘below the table’ are those in which people are speaking with peers. They can be covert and even clandestine in their nature. This is about colleagues on the same shared level speaking from the heart, saying what they genuinely think and feel about issues. The ‘blind spot’ within the Johore Window is engaged.

Under the table where they are invisibility to those above, educators can say what they genuinely think and feel. This may sound disloyal, even hypocritical. However, these conversations can be a pressure release point and help those het up to calm down and regroup.

Just some thoughts and observations coming from over time and down the years.


I worry about schools and education within. Not because of facilities because the government bit seems has countless millions to our into buildings and physical facilities – anything to keep the Territory building and construction industry happy. I’m not worried the level, degree and scope of narrowly focussed student testing through NAPLAN, PISA and a host off other accountability and measurement devices. Similarly, there is time aplenty for teachers and school leaders to go through the system imposed torture of performance measurement, personal development, endless meetings and other activities that used to be considered peripheral to the central focus of schools – MEANINGFUL teaching and learning.

My worry is that while teachers, school leaders and indeed the system dither around with justificational stuff, education is going south and with it the attitude and commitment of students. Behaviour and discipline have become huge issues, almost insurmountable in some schools. Teachers are frustrated, stressed and increasingly disaffected with teaching because they cannot manage student behaviours. Increasingly, students are demotivated and disengaged.

It has become common for students in both government and private schools (some, not all) to switch off learning and turn on their for social messaging, facebook engagement, games and other diversions during teaching time. The respect students have for teachers, school leaders, even each other has diminished and continues to degrade. Lackadaisical attitudes are manifest by both secondary and primary school students.

In some respects this is small wonder because of the school focus as raised in paragraph one. The growing truth is that education, too often is meaningless in terms of the way it is seen as relevant. Some students worry about relevance, others simply switch off or don’t care. And I wonder if students are still regarded as people (this used to be the case). Too often I feel, they are seen more as a means to the end – of justifying schools and staff on paper and therefore being a part of satisfying school and staff accountability requirements.

If that is the case, it’s devaluing students and debasing education as a whole.



I sometimes ponder the phenomena of how what is touted as a long time is really quite short in length if considered from another angle.

A person living to be 100 years of age is considered to have lived for a long, long time. One hundred years sounds a lot. Yet a centurion in years has a life span that has traversed only 36,525 days, including leap years. That sounds a long way shorter than representing the time as 100 years.

Six weeks school holiday at Christmas, including the pre and post weekends before returning to school. Six weeks – WOW! Yes, all of 1104 hours, including the pre and post weekends. Put like that, this long break seems like a damp squib. The way a length of time is calculated makes a huge difference to the way it is conceptualised

In similar vein, children with homework tasks may have ‘days and days’ until the assignment is due. They put of completion. Until they wake up and the due date is upon them.

In all contexts, we need to use time wisely.




Further matters that intending teachers might consider prior to appointment as staff to schools in remote areas. There is no future in arriving within a community and THEN starting to learn about the place ion which the school or government agency is located.

Is there a police presence in the community. Is that a permanent or occasional presence. Is there a police station.

Is there a health clinic and what are its operating hours. Do health Department staff include registered nurses and qualified Indigenous health professionals.

Is there a resident or visiting doctor.

Can counselling or psychological support services be engaged to meet needs of staff and school students if this is necessary.

Is the community serviced by an all weather road and/or air access should medical evacuation be necessary.

Does the community have a Community Government Council.

What are the permit requirements that must be met before visitors (family and others) come to stay.

Is there a rubbish collection service managed by the community.

In what Shire Council is the community and who is the member for the ward (local government area) in which the community is located.

What is the name of the electorate in which the community is situated and who is the local member in the NT Legislative Assembly.