President’s comment 12 March 2013

Two tales of teaching

Two stories running in the media over the past few days highlight that there is often a wide gulf between the public and political views of the teaching profession.

One story was on DETE’s “Parent and community engagement framework”. The document is a step towards a formal recognition of the wide range of strategies and activities already happening in schools to connect them closely with their local communities. 

Despite headlines such as “Schools outsource teaching to parents”, the vast majority of public comments in reaction to the news coverage sensibly pointed out that education is a partnership between parents, teachers and principals, and also acknowledged that society’s expectations of schools continued to expand.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the framework is that it does not fall into the usual populist trap of promoting a ‘school autonomy’ that transfers authority from school leaders and professional educators to the wider community (while of course leaving all responsibility with the teachers and principals). Instead, the suggested strategies in the document generally respect the central role played in education by professional educators, then seeks to harness the strengths, experience and talent of local community members to provide greater benefit to schools.

Compare and contrast that approach with the one demonstrated in the Federal Government’s recent announcement that it intends to “introduce new, more rigorous standards for teacher training courses” as part of the National Plan for School Improvement. 

The issue is not so much in the detail of the proposal, but in the assumption it seems to make that new and beginning teachers are a ‘problem’ that need a ‘solution’. The phrase ‘best and brightest’ as applied to aspiring teachers is becoming very tired – almost as tired as those practising teachers who have to put up with endless slurs against their professional reputations, while battling increasing political incursions into their teaching practices and assaults on their working conditions.

The general public understands what politicians at all levels of government apparently don’t: teaching is a complex, demanding profession of crucial value to society, and teachers are worth more respect than is shown by our political leaders.

Kevin Bates