Monday, August 13, 2012

The Best Teachers Care |


9 Aug 2012

The Best Teachers Care

By Jane Caro

We don't talk about quality barristers or politicians, so why use the word to put down overworked teachers? To deliver better outcomes teachers need support, not more testing, writes Jane Caro

There are few phrases I hate more than the now ubiquitous "quality teachers". As a professional manipulator of language, I understand only too well how such phrases — seemingly innocent in themselves — slowly wear away at the morale and professional pride of people who are already fairly beaten and battered.

The phrase after all implies that many teachers are not "quality", and that somewhere, out there, are potential teachers made of smoother, silkier, more luxurious stuff. Upon entering the profession these gods would instantly show up the inferiority of the more homespun material filling teaching ranks today.

Pardon me while I choke down my rising gorge.

Notice also that we only apply this seriously nasty little phrase to teachers. Nowhere do I hear people calling for "quality" doctors, "quality" engineers, "quality" lawyers, "quality" business leaders or, particularly, "quality" politicians.

Teachers who entered the profession after 2004 currently undergo an accreditation process and, having listened to my daughter, who is a second year out teacher, complain about it at length, I can promise you the process is both demanding and rigorous. How much it helps the work of teaching itself is open to question, but the process takes serious time and effort.

As my daughter already leaves home before 6am and rarely returns home until after 7pm and spends hours every night and every weekend planning lessons and marking, I no longer allow anyone to tell me that teaching is a bludge. During my 30 years in ad agencies, including running my own — an industry renowned for tight deadlines and long hours — I have never worked as hard as she does.

Now the NSW State Govt is suggesting that all teachers should be compelled to undergo a similar accreditation process, regardless of how long they have been in the profession. Now I am all for ongoing professional development, mentoring, teacher feedback and a well structured career path that rewards teachers with more responsibility and more pay as they increase their skills, experience and capacity but an arms length, tick the boxes, bureaucratic, centralised, one size trying to fit all accreditation process that creates busy work for already very busy teachers is highly likely to do more harm than good.

The best teachers love their students. The part of their work they enjoy involves standing in a classroom and inspiring their students to think, understand and grasp ideas, skills and concepts they have never thought about before. That’s where the fun and the rewards are for good teachers. Planning the lessons that will create such dynamic learning is probably the next best part of the job.

Like police, firefighters, medical staff and other hands-on professionals, the paperwork teachers have to do is their least favourite task. Anyone who has ever had to mark 80 Year 8 essays on, well, just about anything, will understand just how tedious marking can be. But at least teachers can see the point of it. They set the assignment, they can see why they need to mark the result. Adding to their already onerous paperwork a layer of reporting on their own performance that can be assessed and evaluated en masse (and so on the cheap) is not likely to be met with enthusiasm.

And therein lies the problem. It is the best teachers who have the most choices. Teachers, like nurses and police are in demand in private enterprise. I’ve lost count of the number of ex-teachers I have worked with in business, some but not all in corporate training.

Ex-nurses have virtually taken over Occupational Health and Safety and Human Resource departments and ex-coppers run security for all sorts of organisations both large and small. Such practitioners have better working conditions, higher salaries, more perks and more status than their peers back at the school, hospital or cop shop, not to mention support staff to help with the boring admin. Increase the work teachers don’t like at the expense of the work they do, and more of them will leave. The ones most likely to leave are those with the most choices, in other words, the best ones.

Worse, the average age of teachers is now well over 40. The profession is aging quickly and many will be retiring over the next decade. The number of people applying for jobs as principals is already declining, particularly in hard to staff schools. There is a nationwide shortage of maths and science teachers. We start pursing our lips and wagging our fingers at the teachers who remain at our considerable peril.

By all means let’s help teachers improve their practice and become more effective but let’s do it for real. As Barack Obama put it recently, weighing the hog doesn’t make it any fatter.

The measurement freaks need to be reminded that we can help teachers teach better by increasing the amount of time they get to spend in the classroom and the time and resources they have to plan what they will do in that classroom, not by increasing the amount of time they must spend reporting on what they do or filling in online surveys or creating portfolios. We need to put more joy back into teaching, not more misery.

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Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 2:22PM

Fantastic Jane!

I am an ex University Lecturer and now an industry trainer. My wife is an extremely dedicated music teacher in a Queensland primary school, whose 35 year career has taken almost 3000 kids on a journey from 2nd grade to 7th grade, inspiring them in music, and producing all sorts of singers, band members, teachers, and caring members of society. At 56 she still works her guts out, and has had one sick day in her life, going to work many times with a cold when the rest of us would take the day off, because her kids would miss their lessons.

I am going to use your phrase when next confronted with someone citing “quality teachers” ……

Thank you for an insightful expose of the whole, ignorant, “bag teachers” mentality.

Dr Bill Laing

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Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 2:46PM

Well said Jane. Being of the male persuasion there is no way I would go near a job with children involved, I once worked in a childcare centre where one worker made it very clear she thought that men had no place.

I would like to see an assessment process for politicians (who after all are our employees - they seem to forget this).

Opportunities for professional development are badly needed. But the measurements the pollies want are just stupid and won’t help.

I do think schools need to be closed so we can start places that would encourage learning. Failing this our teachers deserve much praise for succeeding despite the system they work in and that the pollies want to make even worse.

We know enough for all to thrive! Living authentically is the way to lasting satisfaction.

Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 3:50PM

I agree, Jane - teachers DO need more more support, but there’s a sub-plot which many commentators miss: more testing means even more bureaucracy and that entails more bureaucrats!

And who is in charge of this plot? The bureaucrats, of course!

Yes Minister/Prime Minister wasn’t satire, it was documentary

JV@l’Attitude in Cairns

Common Sense still Breathing
Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 4:59PM

Open your minds people!
‘Notice also that we only apply this seriously nasty little phrase to teachers. Nowhere do I hear people calling for “quality” doctors, “quality” engineers, “quality” lawyers, “quality” business leaders or, particularly, “quality” politicians.’

I agree, however, that does not mean that we should not. That is why our system is not working. Our doctors - how many people die from missdiagnosis or wrong medicine? Our Engineers - we do not even need to talk about low quality of everything! Our lawyers - we do have good ‘quality’ lawyers but not everybody have enough money so our issues do not get right attentions in the courts because our lawyers do not have quality! etc.

We give our children to schools and hope that teachers will teach them what they need (with our help off course) and we have generations who does not know hou to spell, read, write etc. We have children who enrol to universities and do not know how to reference because teachers did not bother to prepare those good enough students who might go to uni.

I am not blaming teachers only, it is curiculum, it is system.


Look at the close minds of our young. It is frightening! not everybody is educated enough to work extra hours with their children at home even if they have time, and not all parents have money for tutoring etc., it should be done in schools. When I was a student time I spent at school and half an hour of homework was all I did and than I was a child having fun.

We want quality back!

Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 5:48PM

Bizzare line of reasoning, given that the quality of doctors, barristers and especially politicians actually is on everybody’s lips! Independent of training and support, there is a vast range of talent and potential across individuals - if this weren’t the case, there would be no such thing as the job interview, whose goal is to spot quality and nab it.

Training and support are also important, but it’s impact will be constrained if the profession is not securing appropriate talent. The author should take this as a complement - I respect the role of the teacher in society and therefore think it is not suitable for everybody.

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Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 6:02PM

Why were dedicated Teachers Colleges closed? Is it too late to reinstate them? The teachers I remember from 1945 to 1954 were excellent and made a huge impact on me.

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Posted Thursday, 09 August 12 at 6:38PM

Well CSsB, having worked in schools for the last 40 years (and, of course, having been in school before that), I do not think that the education I received at school or the education I inflicted on my students in the years just after I started teaching were necessarily “quality.” I think you are blaming schools for a problem society has inflicted on us: not letting kids be kids. That’s a parental choice and encompasses things like trying to get the kids into selective high schools, building houses with no backyards, keeping the kids busy so parents don’t have to actually interact with them, trying to make sure their precious ones are the best and better than anyone else’s precious one…

Having said that, I do think that good teachers make a difference and maybe I have eventually become a good teacher. But filling in more bureaucratic nonsense is not going to make a poor teacher a good teacher. In fact, it was partly the continuing emphasis on “accountability” that drove firstly my wife out of the classroom (and she has always been a great teacher) and eventually drove me/us out of Australia. I got jack of people who hadn’t entered a classroom for years making decisions about how I should be teaching. My wife got sick of having to justify everything she did in her classroom at the expense of planning, being innovative and actually caring for kids. When her afternoons became a matter of ticking boxes rather than preparing for the next day, she knew it was time to get out.

Anyway, in my experience, there are some truly great teachers, a lot of good teachers and some poor teachers. Everyone knows who the poor teachers are. You don’t need a checklist; you just need to sack them.

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Posted Friday, 10 August 12 at 7:08AM

Yes Erik - there needs to be a system for allowing parents to raise concerns about the poor teachers and to get rid of them from classrooms so they do not damage the educations of our children. All parents whose kids attend a school KNOW who the bad teachers are at that school. We all dread our children ending up in their classrooms. It takes two years for a child to recover from a bad teacher…how much of your child’s development and progress would that involve and at significant enough levels/scope to be a concern for their futures?

I have heard principals even defend these teachers, or in my small regional town, when I tried to move my son to a different school I had the new principal defend the managment at the other school … the problems are embedded in the system. Complaints systems need to be taken out of local areas and placed into a different domain of practice. These teachers ruin it for everyone. These teachers are the reason all other teachers get forced to do all that ridiculous paperwork, justification, testing for testing sake, wasting teaching time, teacher creativity and innovation.

We will also end up with schools full of teachers that have the wrong set of personality traits and strengths, rather than high emotional and social quotients they will have high admin accountancy skills…not useful for problem solving or finding effective teaching approaches for helping nurture young students, slow learners, gifted children or our syytem as a whole.

Teachers should be teaching, or engaging in professional development to equip them to be even better teachers - shift testing of professional competency out of schools into a different organisation. This also avoids schools cheating for personal, image or friendship reasons…

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Posted Saturday, 11 August 12 at 5:58PM

Jane, I’m delighted to hear there is no such thing as a quality copywriter, and that when you ran your advertising agency you hired every copywriter who showed up and promoted them solely on seniority, ignoring all the clients you lost when some of those copywriters produced advertising copy the clients didn’t like.

Naturally you kept getting government work regardless of how many biased private companies went over to your competitors — thank God we have the Labor Party to save us from idealogues who think there is such a thing as quality advertising copy.

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