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  • Ned Manning

Another School Summit

Another School Summit. Another raft of proposals that may or may not be implemented. Another cliché or two to cover the perceived or imagined cracks.

Teachers are a resilient lot. They wouldn’t be teachers if they weren’t. The changes that have been wrought to the profession the past few decades would test the patience of a saint and, luckily, most teachers are saints.

Accountability has become the God. A succession of Ministers for Education of all shapes, sizes and political persuasions have demanded “accountability”. It’s as if they invented the word and that all those teachers tirelessly working away at blackboards over the years haven’t been accountable.

Let’s just put that one to bed once and for all. Every teacher who walks into a classroom is accountable. They are accountable to the children in front of them. If they’re not they will be eaten for breakfast. Teachers know that. They know that as surely as they know that teaching is about a lot more than dispensing facts like medicine. They’re accountable to parents. They’re accountable to their own professional standards.

That’s why this stream of clichéd “grabs” emanating from the never ending “Inquiries” are so insulting and drive teachers around the bend.

The latest brain wave from the newly minted Federal Minister for Education is that “quality teaching”, not more funding is the key to better results. This is breathlessly reported as though Mr Tudge came up with the idea of “quality teaching’. It implies that before he made this discovery there hasn’t been any quality teaching, only “inferior teaching’. Tell that to my late step mother who was up all night in the 70’s preparing lessons for her history class at Kandos High and had them eating out of her hand. Those students may not have topped the State but they turned up to class and enthusiastically embraced the study of history. Her achievements were immeasurable. Literally.

There are hundreds of thousands of stories about people whose lives have been changed by teachers in a wide range of schools around the country. These are the silent achievements that happen in every classroom and playground, in every school, every day of the week.

There isn’t a teacher in the Land who doesn’t want our schools to perform better in the core subjects and for us to be in the top group of nations as measured by those standards.

We all want our students to do well. We wouldn’t be teachers if we didn’t.

The question is, why have our rankings dropped in reading, maths and science? Is it because of inferior teaching? Or might it be that this obsession with “accountability” has led to a mountain of increased paperwork that is getting in the way of “quality” teaching. So much of our time is spent proving that we are providing “quality” teaching that we don’t have time to provide it. Ask any teacher. It’s a Pythonesque situation.

Like any politician, Mr Tudge doesn’t think funding has anything to do with this. Even though every one of the endless Inquiries has argued that it does. Imagine if there was adequate funding to support students with disabilities? Imagine if every school had enough ancillary staff to assist teachers with administration? Imagine if there was someone to do something as basic as photocopying so teachers could spend more time preparing lessons and helping individual students?

The idea that out “Best and Brightest” will flock to underpaid jobs in under resourced schools if fanciful at best.

Why do so many young teachers resign? Apart from the loads of paperwork, it’s because teaching is a personally demanding occupation. It is often confronting. Even if the “Best and Brightest” were somehow convinced to give up high paying jobs in industry and the professions to take on a poorly paid job that loaded them up with so much clerical work that they had barely any time to do what they signed up for (that is teach), would they necessarily have the personal skills to succeed? Would they have the patience? The empathy? The human interest?

Because that’s what quality teachers have. In spades.

It’s why they keep teaching.

It’s the innate satisfaction that is derived from seeing a student who has been struggling make it through. The sheer joy of helping a young person achieve a goal they had imagined was beyond them. The trust that has been engendered from an honest relationship. Inquiries into Education need to put teachers front and centre if they are to achieve any long lasting gains. They need to put the clichés away, face the truth and utilise the skills of the active and retired teachers who do it because they love it and they’re good at it.







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