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Better Teachers? Better at What Exactly?

Phew. School holidays. A chance to recover from a typically frenetic first Term and take stock.


It’s been busy inside and outside the classroom.


Inside it’s been business as usual.


Preparing lessons, marking, dealing with parental expectations and trying to blend the diverse cultural and social backgrounds of our students into harmonious classes.


We’ve just finished writing reports. Making sure that we have reached the “outcomes” which are incomprehensible to both parents and students but fulfil a bureaucratic need for accountability. Instead of giving our students marks or, God forbid, rankings we have disguised their results in generalities so their parents are saved from facing the truth about their children’s real progress. We need to be transparent but the transparency is designed to mask the truth about what is going on in our classrooms.


We aren’t allowed to tell it how it is.


Even though we’ve been drowning in a sea of paperwork we’ve done our best to come up for air and actually teach our students.


We’ve tried to give them one on one tutelage but the size of our classes has made this impossible.


Then there are the Naplan tests that we aren’t meant to prepare our students for but do because “bad” results will reflect badly on our schools and give politicians and commentators who want to bag us a free kick. 


On top of this we’ve been filling in the host of forms that make taking students on excursions, to sporting events and into the woods prohibitive


Into the woods? That where William Doyle’s son was sent when he spent some time in a Finnish school. Writing in the L.A. Times, Doyle told us that his son was given a compass and told to find his way back to school. In Australia his teachers would be hauled over the coals for abrogating their Duty of Care let alone

failing to comply with Risk Management strategies.


Why is this relevant?


Because there has been a lot going on outside the classroom too. With an election looming and schools funding well and truly on the agenda we are having yet another debate about the need to lift our educational standards and how best to fulfil that need.


Politicians and commentators who have never been inside a classroom since they left school (apart form photo ops) have been pontificating from on high about what is wrong with our schools.


The clarion call is, of course,


“We need better teachers”.


Better teachers? Better at what? Filling in forms? Disciplining over sized classrooms? Raising standards with inadequate resources?  Does this imply that teachers like me aren’t any good?


Hot on the heels of this comes the lament that we are falling behind the rest of the world,


“Why can’t we be as good as the Fins?”


I’ll tell you why.


The Fins don’t spend their time arguing about who should fund their schools. They don’t waste any ink on public v private arguments. They don’t bag their teachers.


As William Doyle discovered they regard their teachers as “the most respected and trusted professionals next to doctors”.


Do we do that? Politicians and commentators complain about the standard of teacher training while refusing to adequately fund the institutions that are meant to produce good teachers on the smell of an oily rag. I have yet to read a word about what exactly is wrong with the training just that it needs to be “better”.


Finnish teachers complete Masters Degrees. Our unis and colleges are lucky to receive adequate funding to enable them to complete any sort of training. They are forced to lower entrance scores to attract students who will pay the HECS fees that fund the courses. It’s Pythonesque.


We want “better” training but we don’t want to pay for it.


Not only are Finnish teachers respected and trusted, they are recognized as being the experts when it comes to education because they actually work at the coalface not in an office.


I haven’t even mentioned comparable pay rates because a country that can’t find the will and resources to implement a report that every educator in the land agrees should be implemented are never going to pay teachers what they deserve. Let alone the kind of salary that will attract the “best and brightest”.


We are still arguing over class sizes when the Fins recognize and therefore facilitate opportunities for one on one teaching by having manageable numbers of students in their classes.


The Fins have virtually discarded standardised testing. We have become more and more reliant on Naplan results for meaningless, and costly, data that enables us to identify the “best” schools.


We actually have great curricula, every bit as impressive as anyone’s, we just don’t have the resources to implement them.


We burden our teachers with piles of pointless assessment procedures that mask our students true results but satisfy bureaucrats needs for “accountability”.


As for sending our students into the woods with compasses, we won’t let them get a bus to a cricket game without a ten page Risk Assessment being completed.


Spare me the comparisons.


We know exactly how to lift our educational standards. It was outlined in the widely revered Gonksi Report. Until we are capable of putting our children’s needs in front of anything else we will continue slipping down the educational league table.


It’s got nothing to do with “better teacher’s”. It’s got everything to do with “protecting our children from politicians”.

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