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It's time we stopped blaming teachers and started supporting them.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The response to the latest Naplan results has my head spinning. It's not the results themselves that have debatable relevance to anything apart from how well some schools coach their kids.

It's the response.

The usual suspects, from the federal minister of education to every educational expert in the land, have had their two bobs' worth.

"The figures are disappointing", "we're falling further behind", they chorused.

The minister opined that the Naplan results prove that educational funding doesn't affect results. Or, in other words, tried to justify his government's refusal to fund the Gonski reforms.

Others took the opportunity to push whichever barrow suited their ideological standpoint. All arrived at the same conclusion. "We need better teachers."

We don't need better parents, we don't need better politicians, we don't need better support systems.

We need better teachers.

Of course none of these experts actually works at the teaching coal face. Some have never set foot inside a classroom as a teacher. Others have spent a few years teaching Year 9 before escaping to the relative safety of their offices to pontificate from on high. Still others have expressed their outrage at the appalling state of affairs from behind their microphones or in their comfortable television studios.

Leaving aside the efficacy of Naplan testing. Leaving aside the hysterical reaction to results of dubious value that serve to boost ratings and make commentators feel important for 24 hours.

Leaving all that aside, it is a cop out to trot out the same old cliché that it's the fault of teachers. And it is a cliché because no one will take ownership of the real problems.

They begin with handing the responsibility for everything from our kids schooling to their behavioural problems to someone else.

What teachers need to become "better" is support. Not many 20-year-olds are equipped to walk into a classroom and confidently teach students that challenge them professionally and, often, personally. Becoming a good teacher takes time in just the same way it takes time to become a good doctor. 

No hospital hands an intern the scalpel and asks them to do open heart surgery. In the same we way we shouldn't throw teachers in the deep end without support. This may take the shape of mentoring from older, perhaps retired, teachers who know just how hard it is to gain the confidence to wrangle teenagers en masse. That's exactly why Gonski is so important. It's why we need manageable class sizes.

We need parents to take responsibility for their children's education and support the programs their teachers give them. It might be as simple as reading stories at bedtime. That will help literacy.

I heard someone on the ABC lament the "figures" from the Northern Territory. The same Northern Territory that has completely lost control of its juvenile justice system and seems incapable of bridging the gap for our First Peoples.

How can a society that washes its hands of all responsibility for the increasing number of people who are falling through the cracks turn around and blame teachers for all the ills of the educational system?

The point is that teachers don't work in a vacuum. They teach in a social context. They aren't magicians. They do their best but the odds are stacked against them, often in the shape of external issues that they have no control of.




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