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.
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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