Time to put trust in great teachers

By Greg Whitby, 4 May 2017

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Recently an assistant principal of a large primary school with over twenty years experience said she was glad she wasn’t starting out in the profession now. When asked why, this accomplished classroom teacher and leader said the administrative demands and regulatory burden on teachers today might just be too much.

Those comments may shed some light on why many teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It’s an issue that many education systems around the world, including ours, are attempting to deal with because of its negative impact on student achievement. Raising student achievement has become as much a political focus as it has an educational one.

The typical response when student achievement slips either on NAPLAN or other international tests is to blame the profession and then impose even narrower assessment and reporting regimes, linking funding to student achievement, ‘raising the bar’ for what is expected of trainee teachers or getting ‘back to basics’. We know from experience that these strategies don’t work, and instead, only serve to cement the perception that schools are failing and teachers can’t be trusted.

With the exception of countries like Finland, Sweden and Singapore, there is not enough community trust in the work teachers do. When teaching is effective it is as intellectually challenging as being a surgeon or pilot.

In addition to bringing their knowledge and passion to classrooms, teachers also bring patience, understanding and empathy. This is no mean feat at the best of times – just ask parents!  We put this at risk when we make the focus of teacher work implementing standardised testing or compliance measures.

In a rapidly changing world, teachers are expected to hit the ground running. The demands on teachers are great and the days are long. Despite this they continue to show up and work in the best interests of their students.

For too long, teachers have put up with others exercising control over their work – what to teach, how to teach and when to teach it. The majority of teachers in Australian classrooms are capable professionals who deserve to do what they signed up to do – teach.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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