- Bringing Back Respect for Teachers and the Teaching Profession
With the onset of the age of entitlement and decline in respect generally as a social norm, it is no wonder that the professions of teaching, nursing and policing may be losing their appeal as a profession of choice. Surely the education, health and safety of our community must be top priorities?
The teaching profession is certainly facing many challenges. The pandemic has served to reinforce this and raise the awareness of these challenges in the broader community. Within the last 2 years we have seen the:
· AITSL Report (December 2020), Shifting the balance: Increasing the focus on teaching and learning by reducing the burden of compliance and administration.
· Grattan Institute Survey of teachers and school leaders (January 2022), Making time for great teaching: How better government policy can help.
· Education Ministers committing to the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan (August 2022), with a focus on better understanding future teacher workforce needs, elevating teaching as a profession, addressing the demand for and supply of teachers through strengthening initial teacher education and maximizing time for teaching.
There has also been a great deal of discussion amongst committed and passionate educators to highlight the challenges and possible ways forward, to manage the pressures of teaching in the short, medium and long terms.
So, there is certainly acknowledgement that the current state of play is not sustainable, and change must happen. We can be hopeful that the talk will translate into action, and we will see real change.
Teachers need to be able to concentrate on what they do best: focus on their students and their students’ learning journey and they need the time to do this. The layers and hours of work and preparation that support classroom teaching are endless. This involves preparation of content and skill development that is relevant, engaging and challenging. It involves tasks and resources to support this, formulation of assessments, feedback, marking, reporting. Most of this will take place outside the 8.30am to 3.30pm school day and does not take account of meetings, duties, parent contact. Teachers may well leave campus at the end of the teaching day but will be putting in hours of work at home and on weekends to meet the demands of their role. Teaching is not a profession whereby the work boundaries are clearly defined. Technology has certainly enhanced the teaching and learning process, but it has also eroded the professional/personal boundaries.
We can only hope that all the proposed strategies, be that pay scales, rationalization of and support for administrative duties, provision of resources to support learning and teaching pedagogy and curriculum, assessment, reporting, status of courses at university, practicum placements, internships, mentoring and so on, will serve to address the appeal of the profession.
Whatever strategies come out of all the discussion, there is still a significant underlying issue which will be much harder to address. This relates to the decline in respect and a rise in the sense of entitlement as cultural norms. Teachers, once highly respected professionals for the critical role they play in the education of our children and young adults, can now be on the receiving end of unwarranted and uninformed criticism in managing student academic performance and progress, wellbeing and behavior management. The best outcomes for the students will always be when there is a strong partnership between the school, it’s staff, students and parents. This requires respect. Respect based on trust, trust that the school professionals’ actually know what they are doing.
If children are raised in an environment in which the attitudes, values and beliefs are embedded in racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, ageism or ableist underpinnings, be that conscious or unconscious, then those children will inevitably bring that mindset to their actions and interactions with others at school. This will be at odds with the values, attitudes and beliefs of the school promoting acceptance, diversity and inclusion and there ensues a serious case of misalignment.
Developing the culture of respect in a school is just as important as teaching and learning, co-curricular and wellbeing programs. When respect is embedded in the very soul of a school or any workplace for that matter, then many of the pressures that make working in that environment stressful, will disappear.
The expectation that respect will guide the actions and interactions of all stakeholders in a school needs to be clearly stated at every possible opportunity. Not only must all the marketing, communications and messaging signal this but so too, the Enrolment Policy, the Staff, Student and Parent Code of Conduct Policies and the Communication Protocols: in-person, telephone and email. It is equally important that any breach of these policies is dealt with at the point of happening, to leave absolutely no doubt about what is expected of stakeholders. Policies and value statements are a start and need to be consistently in evidence in every aspect of the community’s operations, starting at the top with leadership. Nobody likes confrontation and when staff feel well-supported and valued for the work that they do, by their colleagues and leadership, this will reduce one of those stresses that can impact on employees’ effectiveness and enjoyment in their workplace.
A final word on respect and culture; amongst the strategies to give teachers more time, it has been proposed that they be relieved of attending assemblies, school events, cocurricular activities. These activities are fundamental to building positive relationships between students and their teachers and are so important to developing a strong and positive culture. Such a strategy should be the exception, not the rule.
All educators will know that the most effective learning to be a teacher, happens in the classroom. Whether this is as an internship or practicum placement, placing an undergraduate in a classroom with an outstanding practitioner as often as possible, will be the most effective and rewarding preparation for teaching as a profession. Mentorship and coaching of beginning teachers is equally important in assisting and guiding them through the highs and lows of those early years. This all requires time and teacher headspace and should be a priority strategy.
Time is money of course! But any system or sector that can provide these incredibly valuable experiences for early career teachers and restore respect for teaching, will go a very long way to attracting and retaining great teachers and restoring the profession to the status that it so richly deserves.