We want better schools, but not better teachers…

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Happy New Year from Sydney, Australia! I know it’s a bit late, especially in the digital age, where you receive sms-text messages and Facebook updates within 0.01 second of the first firework going off… but let me get in ahead of the crowd and wish you the best for Easter, Ramadan, Divali, Hanukkah or (enter your own religious/non-denominational festival here) _______________________  for 2011.

This year promises to be a very busy one, not least because in early February, all being well, my wife and I will be having our second child! Sleep is massively over-rated in my opinion!

On top of that as a direct result of my Anika Foundation Study Tour, I have a number of projects on the go, collaborating with people here and overseas that I’ll be able to share with you through the year… it’s all very exciting.

Now… to the news of the day!

Of all the professions, teaching is unique. Pretty much everyone has been through the education system. This is why forward thinking or innovation is often lacking in education. Society’s opinion of education is embedded with yester-year bias based on their own experience. Driven by the need to keep voters happy, politicians pander to public opinion and so by default are also guilty of yester-year thinking. Julia Gillard herself believes that the Education Revolution will best be served with a Back to Basics Curriculum!

So bearing this in mind… today’s Sun-Herald in Sydney carries an article entitled Smaller Classes Favoured Over Pay Rises for Teachers.  The piece by Anna Patty mentions that ahead of the Austrian Education Union conference tomorrow, a national survey of over 2500 people found the following…

1. 77 per cent thought the best way to build a strong economy and opportunity for all was to provide more federal government support for public schools.

2. people think investment in public schools to lower class sizes should be a greater priority than giving teachers bonus pay and recruiting the best talent into schools.

3. public opinion is at odds with a recent Australian study that found the best way to improve the academic performance of students is to invest more in teachers.

Paraphrasing these three points… we need more money in public schools to make them better (presumably to have more resources for the kids). Lower class sizes are essential, but we’re not bothered about who is in front of our kids, after all it’s only teaching.

We want better schools, but not better teachers.

There is a huge disconnect here.

The most important resources in our schools are quality teachers.

A class of 10 kids, each with a lap-top, fast internet connection and interactive whiteboard would be no better off than an impoverished class of 34 if the teacher is not up to scratch…

Teaching MUST attract the best. Teachers are responsible for the nations most precious resource – children – the future.

How to attract the best is a multi-faceted issue, far more complex than just throwing more money into the pay packets of teachers. (Although this would undoubtedly help a little.) 

Teachers need to be treated as professionals. They need to be given more autonomy to create learning experiences that best suit the needs of their school, students and community.

Teachers need to be afforded the respect that is afforded to other professions such as medicine.

I can’t imagine too many of the public would agree to cutting hospital waiting lists by recruiting anyone as doctors into the medical profession. There is a respect for what doctors do that demands the best.

Drawing the analogy further – I’m not sure the government would consider fast tracking doctors into hard-to-staff hospitals by giving them a 6 week training course as Teach for Australia  does for university graduates to get them into the schools that no-one wants to work in. 

Whilst not directly targeting hard-to-staff schools,  “Teach Next”  targets hard-to-staff subjects and offers an 8 week course with heavily subsidised fees for aspiring Maths or Science teachers then gets them into the classroom.

What does that tell you about the level of training needed to teach? Let alone in a tough school?

No doubt both TFA and TN have come about because of good intentions and noble aims, and admittedly they receive on-the-job mentoring.

However these initiatives miss the point and in doing so demonstrate a lack of respect for what teachers do. Most of the hardest-to-staff schools are the exact places where the very best teachers are needed. Teachers who are the leaders in their field – teachers who are innovative, creative, engaging; life-changing. We don’t need candidates who can just tick the boxes and fill a spot.

But I forget… it’s only teaching!

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0 Comments on “We want better schools, but not better teachers…

  1. Wow! And your a fellow Aussie as well. Brilliant post! I was going to cover the same article in my blog and make similar assertions, but you’ve captured it so much better that I could have. Keep up the good work and all the best for your second child!

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your comment… and the best wishes!
      Just because I’ve written about it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! The more perspectives on these issues in education that we can get across… the better!
      I’ve signed up for your blog and I read your bit on creativity… check out http://www.sirkenrobinson.com
      Cheers mate… keep in contact!

  2. This is so true. Steve Dinham published a great research report (http://smallsteps.edublogs.org/files/2008/05/hscexsawyer-what-makes-a-good-teacher.pdf) into what factors lead to success in the HSC. The top factors were all teacher-related: their knowledge of the syllabus content, their passion for the subject area; their understanding of pedagogy and their ability to differentiate the learning opportunities to meet the needs of individual students in their class. No where in the report was the size of class or level of ICT-based teaching tools mentioned as key to success!

    • Hi Janice,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m keen to chat as to how I can work with Inspire and the Reachout Pro team… I’ve got some stuff in the pipeline bubbling away!
      Speak soon

  3. Dan
    It’s not just one recent study, it is many studies, over many years which show that teachers have the most profound effects (except for family influences) on education, and that modern buildings, IT equipment and brass.

    But research from organisational psychology and economics shows that performance incentives per se do not work. Teaching is traditionally underpaid, and higher salaries associated with higher professional standards are needed across the board. Yet our Victorian system is experimenting with a performance incentive system – reward those teachers with small increments in salary who show they ‘perform better’, even though the evidence is clear that this has either a *neglibile* or even *negative* effect on student outcomes!
    What motivates and empowers any professional, especially teachers, is not incremental financial rewards. You referred to one of them – autonomy, and there are 2 others: mastery and purpose. Dan Pink has written widely on this research, and a highly entertaining summary lecture can be found at


    THese three elements not only motivate teachers, they also apply equally to students – of any age!


    Greg Donoghue
    P.S. You were referred to me by Tayab Rashid – he said you had recently visited and that we were in the same field (positive psych and education). It would be great to collaborate!

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