Teaching & schooling

Last year I did some high school teaching, which I found to be the most difficult paid work I’ve ever done. Definitely way harder than being a Senator – apart from anything else, Senators have staff to help them do what they need to do (& get paid 3 times the money of course). And there is of course also ready access to other resources – apart from anything else, when I was a Senator I didn’t need to go to Officeworks to make sure I had enough pens to do my job the next day, and I didn’t have to be worried if I was blowing the printing budget each time I clicked OK on extra copy of an exam sheet for my class.

Having said that, the teaching I’ve done was not as hard as some of the unpaid work – also known as volunteer work – that I’ve done, but I guess that’s a separate story. I should also emphasise that sometimes I found teaching to be very fulfilling and rewarding (in a non-financial sense), but there is still no doubt that to do it well, day after day – which of course is what every parent hopes/demands and our community needs – is bloody hard.

In any case, I think teaching is much harder than it needs to be because teachers are ridiculously underpaid and undervalued (despite all of the nice sounding words about how we have to invest in our children’s future, etc), and the expectations on what every teacher is meant to cover and be fully across as a matter of course verge on the ridiculous.

So even with my limited direct experience, I’m not surprised that the recent resignation statement of a Brisbane based school teacher of thirty+ years standing has got so much attention. Although this statement is from a primary school teacher, I think many aspects of it are also relevant for high school.

Perhaps in part because I have a Social Work degree alongside my teaching qualification, I have been surprised/apprehensive/astonished about all the things which all teachers are technically meant to be across as a matter of course. I understand why these expectations have arisen, but if they have reached a level which is frankly unrealistic to expect all teachers to be able to deliver, then we have a problem for students (and for teachers as well, but the students have to be the priority).

Having said all that, I will try to do some more paid teaching work in the future (assuming I haven’t ruined my chances by writing/posting these words).

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  1. I have done a reasonable amount of voluntary work in primary schools, but was never game to give it a go in a high school. The main problem with today’s children is that they don’t seem to know who is in charge any more. Children need to know:

    1. who is charge
    2. what the rules are
    3. that the rules will be fairly enforced.

    These things no longer happen in our schools and are leaving children anxious. As a consequence, they are also searching among the peer group for a leader, which undermines adults even further.

    I have never met a teacher who was in favour of NAPLAN. Teachers who were members of an education reform group also told me the government would not allow them access to curricula for evaluation purposes.

    There are also lots of social issues affecting children. A lot don’t live in stable 2 parent households, and sole parents often have to start work early or finish late, and therefore cannot ensure their children go to school or stay out of trouble (drugs, alcohol, vandalism, theft, unplanned pregnancies, STDs).

    It took my niece in Perth nearly 3 years to access full-time work as a Music Teacher. Many of her qualified friends are still working in $2.00 shops. Fortunately this year she has scored a very good job with a university in Fremantle.

    I saw a question in a major newspaper as to why fewer people have elected to study Teaching this year. Here are my answers:

    1. They don’t want to pay enormous university fees if the federal Coalition succeeds in privatising universities and deregulating fees.

    2. They don’t want to have to use any superannuation they might have accumulated to pay their HECS debts, if they cannot even get a job.

    3. The availability of work for teachers seems to be very limited and the ability to attain full-time status is even more difficult.

    4. Maybe other teachers have told them it is not worth the effort, as the job is no longer rewarding.

    Regarding the teacher’s comments about pushing children into formal education too early, my response is that some of our kids really need this at a very early age, and some do not. I would like to see all children tested at age 3 to determine their learning needs, as this should not be purely related to chronological age. I have seen a Year 1 teacher having to educate children with intellectual abilities ranging between the ages of 3 and 10, even though all of the children were 5. I had the “10” year old and life was very frustrating for both him and me. Any attempts by the teacher to harness extra assistance from intelligent parents was rejected out of hand by a narrowly focussed principal, unless it was aimed at struggling students.

  2. I also have returned to teaching. In this case after 17 years in the South Australian Parliament.
    I love teaching but hate the bullshit which is heaped on us by politicians and bureaucrats. I’m not talking about denigration of teachers as such.
    I hate the time I spend justifying my existence to bureaucrats, form filling and doing mandatory training which is in many cases unnecessary for many teachers. Let me use that time on lesson preparation and giving more attention to the students.
    Governments will not improve teacher quality by expecting more and more training and form filling.
    Offer the sort of salary which will attracts people with the right qualities and don’t drive the good teachers in the system mad.
    You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse!

  3. Because lots of younger teachers have been poorly educated in a poorly disciplined environment with inferior curricula and too many unnecessary extras, our children are now being taught by comparatively illiterate and innumerate teachers. I also agree with Mike that you cannot attract high performing teachers with low salaries, too much paperwork and unrealistic expectations.

    I believe the government’s main aim is to continue to drive intelligent teachers out of the system so they can employ more foreign workers at lower salaries. If they can also deter senior students from going into Teaching in the first place, this will be much easier to achieve. I’m sure investment bankers are gearing up to take over every public service, utility and enterprise. In the process, I think they will crush poor and average Australians, while delivering poor returns to investors.

    One complaint I have heard from the younger graduates who cannot find full-time work is that the older people will not retire. I think they should be retired out at age 65.

  4. I actually thought you had shut up shop.

    I ended up here from Club Troppo where Nicholas Gruen has just put up a post on NDIA
    which resonated with above because it deals with small but intense and critical aspects of communication and intention within the context of the modern economy.

    You would take these things seriously and be actually interested in the folk who require social infrastructure services, social benefits and see a point in building a society- I suppose that’s why the policticians are in Canberra and an honest man, out in the boondoggles at the coal face in the real world.

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