From the VP: It's about time ...

Over the course of the QTU Union Reps Conference and the QTU Biennial Conference this year, members have been identifying their reasons to be QTU Proud.

The recently released annual Roy Morgan research on the most highly regarded professions gives teachers yet another reason to be proud. School teachers have once again been identified as one of Australia’s most respected professions, with only nurses, doctors and pharmacists ranking higher. The research shows that 81 per cent of Australians rate school teachers as “very high” or “high” for their ethics and honesty - the highest level ever recorded for the profession over the survey’s 40 years.

This is great news, because it suggests that despite the ongoing efforts of some commentators to undermine public confidence in schools and suggest that the standard of teaching has plummeted and that Australia is experiencing a teacher quality slump, members of the public are basing their ratings on what they see and experience in their local communities.

The continuing debate about school funding has created yet another forum for people who either don’t know much about teaching or who haven’t been a classroom teacher with a full teaching load for a very long time to espouse their views that the money doesn’t matter. That teacher quality is the issue, not the provision of resourcing to schools. That if we can only fix the teachers or direct them how to teach, we can arrest the much hyped decline of standards in our schools. A lot is said about teacher quality. One thing that would improve the entire debate would be to change the language to talk about quality educational experiences and quality teaching rather than an obsession with the term, “quality teacher”.

Another welcome improvement to the debate would be for those same commentators to acknowledge, as the Australian community clearly does, that the people who teach are actually quite excellent people (quality people even!) who of course want to do well by and with their students.

To say that money doesn’t matter is ignorant and offensive to the thousands of teachers frustrated at what they know could be a reality in their classrooms and schools if they were supported to make it happen.

What those who say the money doesn’t matter haven’t done, is to consider the fact that additional funding has the capacity to create the time teachers need to do the things they know are possible. Additional funding has been used in many productive and effective ways since the introduction of Investing for Success (and before it, the Great Results Guarantee), the original Gonski money which was set to grow over the six years. One of these ways to use the funding has been to create time.

Detailed planning and differentiation takes time. Reflecting on the plethora of information and data available to teachers on their students takes time. The provision of feedback that can help students lift their work to the next level takes time. Observing others teach to learn from their expertise and to give them considered feedback takes time. Performance and career planning conversations take time. To do these things well requires ongoing professional development which, if you’re following my drift here you’ll know, takes time.

It’s not that teachers don’t know what to do or have the capacity to reflect and identify the areas of our practice that require attention. It’s not that school leaders don’t want to actively participate in supporting teachers to do this work. It’s that there simply isn’t time to do it well.

Teacher and school leader workloads continue to grow. And while we can reduce our workload by identifying things that we will stop doing or will do less regularly, we can also put our money where our priorities are. If something is important, fund it and create the time for it to be done well. Money can buy time. Investing in teachers’ planning and reflection time and professional development works.

No discussion about the quality or effectiveness of the work being done by teachers should be had without the teachers themselves being front and centre as participants in the conversation. And no amount of evidence-based concepts and advice about what teachers should be doing will create the time for teachers to consider how these things might work in their local context. Good things take time. And time is what we just don’t have enough of.

We need to talk about time. We need to talk about our workload. QTU members need to keep on talking about our workload and the time available to us to meet the expectations we have of ourselves and the system has of us. And it would be nice if ill-informed commentators would stop having conversations about teachers and start having them with teachers.

Sam Pidgeon                                                                                                                         Vice-President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 5, 21 July 2017, p9