SUNS 80 and 81 ‘VIOLENCE AGAINST TEACHERS’ and ‘TEACHER TRAINING’
These columns were published (with some editing) in the Suns in February and March 2015. Readers are welcome to use material herein.
VIOLENCE AGAINST TEACHERS IS OVER THE TOP
Teaching is becoming an unsafe profession. Increasing incidents of violence being perpetrated against those working in classrooms and schools. There have always been issues of severe misbehaviour, including violence against teachers. However the incidence of such behaviour is on the increase. The matter is one that needs to be brought into the open and fleshed out.
While some instances of physical abuse by students against teachers get media airplay, this may be the tip of the iceberg. Violence against teachers may not be an everyday occurrence but the threat of it happening can undermine teacher confidence.
Too often unacceptable incidents seem to be played down. There are also attempts by behaviourists to rationalise what is unacceptable behaviour as normal. Some years ago, students swearing at or back-chatting teachers was frowned upon. There were consequences. It now seems that the verballing of teachers is often accepted as normal behaviour.
Teachers taking stress leave is becoming commonplace. A major factor contributing are mental stresses placed upon teachers by non-compliant and aggressive students.
There were 22 more physical assaults on teachers in the Darwin/Palmerston area in 2014 than in 2013. Physical assaults against teachers increased in the Arnhem, Barkley and Katherine regions. (Aust. Education Union NT source) The ABC reported that 37 student assaults on teachers in 2012, had risen to 253 assaults in 2013. During the same period (2012/13) assaults by students on each other rose from 10 (2012) to 3000 in 2013.
The 2013 numbers took a huge jump because reporting requirements for incidents changed. Until then, occurrences were not always reported.
On your own
There has been a feeling that assaults, if reported, will not result in any follow up. Teachers can feel isolated after being on the receiving end of student abuse. There have also been allegations that abuse has not been reported by school leaders to the Education Department.
From time to time the Department and the Teachers Union have considered behaviour management. However, rather than having a bilateral agreement, follow up is largely left to individual schools.
The assault mentality and its magnitude are a blight upon our system and schools. Downplaying issues seems to be based on the perception that public revelation is bad PR for schools, principals and staff. I believe the responsibility for assault should be lifted from schools and owned at departmental level. Rather than a softly softly or minimalist approach, the matter should be managed assertively. This should include expulsion and prosecution. The days of excusing and offering soft response options, should be consigned to history.
TEACHER TRAINING SHOULD REVISIT THE PAST
A lot is being said and written about teacher training at the moment. Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said recently that graduate teachers should be mathematically savvy and competent in language and literacy. They should also be able to offer subject specialisation to students.
Minister Pyne is not breaking new ground. He is advocating a return to teacher training methods from the 1960’s and early 1970’s. At that time a Teachers Certificate, involving either two or three years study, met all the elements currently being espoused as necessary.
Training programs included the following:
* A year seven level mathematics test had to be passed.
* A spelling test of 100 words (one mistake allowed) had to be passed.
* Students were test for qualities of speaking and reading. Imperfections in either area required trainees to undertake remedial classes in order to overcome deficits in these areas.
* Educational Theory and Practice was a compulsory two year unit.
* Teaching methods for every curriculum subject had to be understood and passed.
* Students were required to elect two subjects in which they had to develop
specialist understanding. This was to facilitate their classroom teaching.
* Teaching methods in key subjects was a part of the training program. Subjects
included English, Mathematics, Psychology, Social Science (including History and
Geography). Teaching methods had to be learned (and applied when on practice)
for Early Childhood, Middle and Upper Primary grades.
Training teachers attended nearby demonstration schools to observe teachers at work. They had to professionally critique demonstration lessons, firstly in group discussion with practising teachers and then by writing their reflections for consideration by a lecturer. Learning by observation helped when they went on practice teaching rounds.
Students on practice were regularly observed by lecturers who wrote critiques on their lessons. They discussed with students the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching. The classroom teacher (mentor) always contributed to these evaluations.
Student teachers took an accumulative teaching mark with them from one practice to the next. They were required to show improvement as they moved through their six practice rounds. While assessments were rigorous, they were also fair. Teacher training was character building.
I don’t don’t disrespect modern day pre-service teacher training by universities. However, there is room for the solid and classroom focussed foundation received by those who trained in the past to be revisited.