Labor quick fix misses reality of classroom
LABOR has announced it will cap university placements for prospective teachers to arrest the decline in offers to students with ATAR scores as low as 30. It’s an admirable ambition. It stands to perfect reason that the quality of the teaching workforce is something that we’d like to improve and therefore that the capabilities of those who step on the path to teaching should be higher.
But what’s currently missing from Labor’s plan for world-class teachers is a recognition of the reasons we got here in the first place.
The first reason is that it was Labor who deregulated the university sector, leaving them to write their own rules for who they accepted into pre-service teacher preparation and how they trained them.
That our universities, who have explicit business plans, started to act in their own self interest by accepting any old Tom, Dick or Jane to fill the quotas on their teaching courses and to maximise bottom lines shouldn’t be a big surprise.
Nor should it surprise that graduates from these courses hit the classroom and gasp at the reality of the job in front of them.
Many university staff are failed teachers and equipped better for lecture delivery than accelerating the teaching skills and pedagogy of future educators.
Of the most common statements I hear among teachers who are new to the profession, two stand out.
The good ones say: “Wow. I learned so much more in my first term of teaching than I did in four years of uni.”
The rest say: “I seriously had no idea that this is what’s involved in this gig. I’m outta here!”
Which leads us to the second reason that we’re in this predicament.
Imagine a bucket storing your water, but the bucket has two big holes in it.
You’d like to improve the quality of water in that bucket and so you have two options: tip better quality water into the bucket; or repair the holes.
Which would you attend to first?
Yep, most people would fix the bucket so that they aren’t simply losing better quality water than they were previously.
This is exactly what we risk doing with the teaching workforce.
Simply pouring people into the system who achieved higher ATAR scores is not going to address the reasons teachers are fleeing the caper in droves.
And that means that we need to have the uncomfortable conversation about teacher pay and conditions.
For teachers who are new to the profession, the pay isn’t too shabby.
It’s the conditions that suck.
They are patently unprepared for the true challenges between the walls of the classroom.
Their universities prepared them for what to teach.
But they failed manifestly in teaching them about the sustained relationship building and behaviour management required for kids.
Put simply, they chose not to teach them how to teach.
Those of us who are parents might ponder the task of getting a 15-year-old who’d rather be playing on his X-Box to clean his room.
Or we could ponder the tactical nous required to get a five-year-old to eat their vegetables.
Now, multiply that task by 25, throw in some intellectual impairments and language barriers and you’re starting to understand the world of the contemporary teacher. It’s a genuinely tough gig. Add to the career shock of this daily grind an excessive administrative load and some aggressive parents and it’s little wonder schools in some jurisdictions, usually where great teachers are most needed, endure up to half of their teachers quitting within the first three to five years of starting their careers.
At the other end of the experience scale, pay starts to matter more than conditions.
After about 10 years in most states, paltry yearly increments in pay for teachers cease.
These are now battle-hardened, highly skilled professionals whose pay doesn’t reflect their effort or their capability.
But you know who does? The private and corporate sector does.
So, these teachers often leave teaching for a better paid job where their people skills, work ethic and highly-relevant learning expertise are better rewarded.
A future Labor government can put pressure on universities to produce a better quality of teacher, fit for the task and driven by the passion, compassion and enthusiasm to make the contribution they were born to. And they should.
But if Labor and Tanya Plibersek forge ahead with the quick fix of pouring young, brighteyed, high-quality folk into the broken bucket that is the education workforce, they’ll just find themselves losing a better quality of teacher.