Teachers’ Voice

Recently I have been concerned by some of the negative commentary about teachers and teaching standards. What is most surprising is that the commentary comes often from people with little real knowledge of the profession. The public purse in Australia, and many other countries, is tied to education. As a result politicians, The Public Service and anybody who is a taxpayer may become intertwined in the conversation.

Australia isn’t the only country that has become disillusioned with their teachers and their schools. It seems to be occurring in the US and the UK at the same moment in time.

I think the introduction of Standardized Tests (NAPLAN) heralded a change here in Australia. I am still amazed that Australia decided to imitate this Bush led, US initiative. The idea of comparing schools via “My School” was an extension of the standardized testing and now teacher evaluation is added to the equation. All aim to put schools under the microscope. All are aimed at improving educational standards. All are copied from other “failing education systems”.

The worst aspect of this is that the education systems that we are choosing to emulate aren’t the leaders. For some reason we haven’t sought best practice. We haven’t looked toward leading countries in Scandinavia or other successful systems to learn from their successes. We haven’t sought our own solutions. We are simply behaving like the kid at the back of the class copying the answers from other “failing students”. How absurd is that?

While I refer to other “failing systems” I don’t believe they are failing. I don’t believe that teachers in general are not performing. Let’s not vilify great teachers via some flawed political instrument. We should be seeking to celebrate success and emulate it at local, systemic, national and international levels. Additionally if government is unhappy with the teacher product it should be investing in improving the Tertiary training of teachers and why aren’t we seeing major investment in comprehensive Inservice training programs? Why is government not investing in salary improvement so that they can attract the brightest and best more easily? Is government really concerned with the quality of teachers or is government merely seeking an expedient way to reduce costs by gaining greater productivity?

Governments are very good at influencing. They will conveniently select research which supports the idea of larger class sizes being insignificant and which points to teachers as being the weak link in student performance. Why? It is cost effective and diverts criticism from systemic issues. I am not suggesting that teachers aren’t very significant because they are crucial, but when other clearly influential factors are distorted in this way we get an incongruent result.

Unfortunately the decline in support for unions in recent times has meant that the voice of teachers has become muted to some extent. I have never been an advocate of industrial action, but unions can help to balance the conversation. Blogging and Tweeting are good avenues, but they lack a coherent focussed message. As I write I realize that I haven’t renewed my own membership to a union and that I am failing to contribute to the collective teachers’ voice.

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