Let’s hear it from the teach­ers

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

The teach­ing pro­fes­sion has al­ways been the sub­ject of heated dis­cus­sion. Re­cently, the pro­fes­sion was in the lime­light of a po­lit­i­cal de­bate when, due to ex­treme short­age in lo­cal schools, univer­sity stu­dents who are still study­ing to be­come pro­fes­sional teach­ers, were asked if they would be in­ter­ested to work part time in lo­cal gov­ern­ment schools. This move by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry an­gered many, es­pe­cially teach­ers. We have heard the teach­ers’ union, the MUT, speak about it and even the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Evarist Bar­tolo spoke about it ex­ten­sively. But it is high time we heard it from the ed­u­ca­tors them­selves. Gabriel Schem­bri ap­proached three teach­ers, all of them rel­a­tively young, to ask each of them the same five ques­tions. The names of th­ese teach­ers are be­ing with­held. Here is what they had to say. Sec­ondary School Math­e­mat­ics teacher Church School Age: 29

What would you say is a teacher’s big­gest chal­lenge to­day?

In my opin­ion, the big­gest chal­lenge is that we do not have the nec­es­sary sup­port from par­ents at home to ed­u­cate their chil­dren. Par­ents ex­pect us teach­ers to do some of the par­ents’ du­ties like spoon-feed­ing them ma­te­rial with­out ex­pect­ing them to do their part, teach­ing them ba­sic skills like lis­ten­ing to oth­ers and re­spect­ing author­ity. Chil­dren are taught all their rights but not their du­ties!

Also, the world around us is con­stantly chang­ing but our method of ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents (at least in Malta) has stayed the same. We are ex­pected to pre­pare stu­dents for the world of to­mor­row but are forced to use tools which are out of date (like ways of as­sess­ment, re­sources etc.)

Go­ing back, would you have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sion?

Some­times I think about it be­cause I am in­creas­ingly be­com­ing more tired with all the work there is to do. How­ever, I love teach­ing very much and I don’t think I would choose an­other pro­fes­sion, for the time be­ing. If things and con­di­tions don’t change, I might have to re­think all this be­cause as much as I love my job, some­times all the work (dur­ing and af­ter school hours), the lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion of some par­ents and the lack of a de­cent pay is too much.

How did you feel when the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment asked univer­sity stu­dents to work part time as teach­ers?

I was hurt and an­gry. Hurt be­cause it proved to me once again that our job is not ap­pre­ci­ated by the Min­istry. I have never heard of stu­dents be­ing asked to re­place lawyers, doc­tors or peo­ple do­ing other jobs. There­fore, this means that teach­ing is not con­sid­ered as im­por­tant by the Min­istry. Also, I felt very an­gry be­cause the Min­istry knows the prob­lems there are in the teach­ing sys­tem, knows about the con­di­tions, low pay and high ex­pec­ta­tions of our job, but still re­fuses to do some­thing about it. They are happy with spend­ing mil­lions on new schools but refuse teach­ers and LSAs bet­ter con­di­tions and pay.

Teach­ers now have to go through a longer course be­cause of the Masters de­gree. Do you think this will help im­prove the teacher short­age sit­u­a­tion?

A longer course by it­self will not im­prove teacher short­age. Univer­sity stu­dents don’t think it’s worth their while (and nei­ther do I) do­ing a Masters course and then get­ting such a low paid job (and un­ap­pre­ci­ated). I am all in favour of teach­ers stay­ing up to date and do­ing courses, but that by it­self won’t solve the prob­lem.

When it comes to the ac­tual job, does this Masters course help the teach­ers’ per­for­mance? Will they be re­spected more?

It might make the job more re­spectable. I also be­lieve that it will im­prove a teacher’s per­for­mance but I still don’t find it’s worth­while do­ing a Masters de­gree for the cur­rent con­di­tions and pay.

List three things you would change im­me­di­ately to help im­prove the sit­u­a­tion.

1) In­crease the salary of all teach­ers and LSAs 2) Pro­vide teach­ers and LSAs with a proper bud­get to use for re­sources in class ... so that we don’t have to pay our­selves for th­ese things!

3) Pro­vide more op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­cen­tives for teach­ers to do a Masters De­gree. Mal­tese lan­guage sec­ondary school teacher Church School Age: 25 What would you say is a teacher’s big­gest chal­lenge to­day?

A teacher’s big­gest chal­lenge is that it is taken for granted re­quire­ment that they will have a mul­ti­tude of roles be­sides that of a teacher. Teach­ers nowa­days need to cater for a group of stu­dents whose so­cial back­ground is com­plex and at times, it is a very heavy bur­den for them to carry on their young shoul­ders. Teach­ers must step into the role of fa­ther, mother, coun­sel­lor and guardian. At times, teach­ers are prob­a­bly the only con­stant fac­tor in a child’s life, and while some stu­dents look up to them, oth­ers end up vent­ing their frus­tra­tion on them, which makes it very dif­fi­cult for them to fo­cus on their teach­ing role, since the is­sue of class­room man­age­ment and the need to main­tain or­der be­comes more press­ing. All this in the con­text of a so­ci­ety that sees teach­ers as lazy in­di­vid­u­als who want to have it all, mak­ing lit­tle or no ef­fort at all.

Go­ing back, would you have cho­sen a dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sion?

Hav­ing left the job af­ter two years only to re­turn a year later, I think I’ve tried and tested such a pos­si­bil­ity. A cou­ple of months were enough to make me realise that leav­ing the teach­ing pro­fes­sion wasn’t what I was seek­ing. Teach­ing is a tir­ing job, and if you put your heart and soul into it, you end up work­ing day and night, at least dur­ing the nine-month scholas­tic year, but it is prob­a­bly the only job that brings one par­tic­u­lar op­por­tu­nity: to con­trib­ute to the com­mon good, to raise well-man­nered in­di­vid­u­als who can choose right from wrong. No other pro­fes­sion leaves a mark on so many young minds at one go, and our so­ci­ety fails to en­vis­age such a pow­er­ful op­por­tu­nity: teach­ers can make the world a bet­ter place.

How did you feel when the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment asked univer­sity stu­dents to work part time as teach­ers?

Be­trayed. There is some­what of a cri­sis in supply, but seek­ing short-term so­lu­tions will back­fire. Teach­ing is a stren­u­ous job and it takes much more than a cer­tain level of pro­fi­ciency in the sub­ject. Teach­ers need to be well trained, but it’s not just about giv­ing lessons. Teach­ing is about giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to the chil­dren you are re­spon­si­ble for and a part-time op­por­tu­nity with lit­tle or no train­ing sim­ply won’t do it.

Teach­ers now have to go through a longer course be­cause of the Masters. Do you think this will help im­prove the teacher short­age sit­u­a­tion?

I can­not see any di­rect cor­re­la­tion. Stu­dents will­ing to take up teach­ing as a pro­fes­sion will still en­rol for the Masters in Teach­ing and Learn­ing; ad­dress­ing the teacher short­age prob­lem re­quires much more than im­proved con­di­tions and pay. Such im­prove­ments will cer­tainly help, but few are will­ing to take up a job whose pro­fes­sion­als are of­ten crit­i­cised of­ten, es­pe­cially be­cause they are in a pro­fes­sion that many think ev­ery­one can sim­ply do when­ever they like.

When it comes to the ac­tual job, does this Masters course help teach­ers’ per­for­mance? Will they be re­spected more?

They will still be teach­ers, and if the cur­rent stigma at­tached to the post pre­vails, no, they will not be re­spected more.

List three things you would change im­me­di­ately to help im­prove the sit­u­a­tion.

The per­cep­tion, the so­cial fab­ric and the con­di­tions, in­clud­ing the pay.

Sec­ondary School De­sign and Tech­nol­ogy teacher Gov­ern­ment school Age: 26

What would you say is a teacher’s big­gest chal­lenge to­day?

Try­ing to cope with the mixed di­ver­sity of a sin­gle class, both abil­ity wise and a dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­ground. We are ex­pected to cre­ate mul­ti­ple lessons to ex­plain at the same time to cater for the dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties. We have stu­dents who have the abil­ity to be high achiev­ers and oth­ers who come to school to sim­ply pass the time. As teach­ers, we try to push all stu­dents for­ward but when mix­ing stu­dents of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties to­gether the re­al­ity is that the high achiev­ers are held back by other stu­dents and are in­flu­enced by the mis­be­hav­ing stu

dents.

How did you feel when the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment asked univer­sity stu­dents to work part time as teach­ers?

I felt of­fended. I felt that my time at univer­sity was a waste of time. Imag­ine a univer­sity stu­dent who can sud­denly go to the hos­pi­tal and per­form surgery on any per­son. A univer­sity qual­i­fi­ca­tion does not prove a teacher’s abil­ity to teach; the course is there to try to iden­tify the peo­ple with the abil­ity to do so.

Teach­ers now have to go through a longer course be­cause of the Masters. Do you think this will help im­prove the teacher short­age sit­u­a­tion?

As men­tioned ear­lier, a univer­sity qual­i­fi­ca­tion does not prove that one is a good teacher. More­over, a longer time at univer­sity will def­i­nitely not help en­cour­age oth­ers to join (this is al­ready ev­i­dent). Why take a five-year course to end up what is now con­sid­ered to be just a “filler job” when with a four-year course one could end up in a more promis­ing and re­ward­ing ca­reer.

When it comes to the ac­tual job, does the Masters De­gree help in teach­ers’ per­for­mance? Will they be re­spected more?

No mat­ter the qual­i­fi­ca­tion, re­spect is earned in the class­room. It is the abil­ity to con­nect with the stu­dents, to un­der­stand the way they think and learn. Re­spect is earned through ded­i­ca­tion one gives to the school not just in class but also in other ac­tiv­i­ties. How do we ex­pect to have the stu­dents’ re­spect if we’re not even re­spected by adults?

List three things you would change im­me­di­ately to help im­prove the sit­u­a­tion.

Bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions in the class­room and school. Bet­ter pay to work ra­tio. Bet­ter dis­tri­bu­tion of work, not to teach­ers who burn out af­ter three years.

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