Teachers Need to Rejoice


In 2017, the teaching profession is under more pressure than ever to deliver for students. Expectations have been building for years but have never been more pronounced than now. Classroom teachers, the most vital of all educators when it comes to interfacing with students, feel the weight of expectation because it all comes down to them. It is they who carry the prime responsibility (outside the home) for teaching and developing children.

Appreciation is well hidden

Double edged expectations are held for teachers and classroom support staff. The system and school leaders anticipate that those working with students will do an outstanding job, reflected in NAPLAN outcomes, PIZA results, TER scores, TAFE/VET achievement and a host of other measurable objectives for primary children and secondary students. On the other hand, parents and the community expect that teachers will teach in a way that results in students achieving quality outcomes, regardless of social and environmental pressures. The constant observation and scrutiny under which educators are placed, adds to their burden of accountability. Expectation is front and centre, with appreciation for what they are doing rarely expressed.

While teachers are celebrated on World Teachers Day each year, this positive recognition is a very brief pause in the heavy load of accountability placed squarely on their shoulders. The profession is one heavily weighted with expectations and bouquets are few.

There are many things about teaching as a profession that are misunderstood by the public at large. Neither are these elements taken into account by Departments of Education and those within systems who set expectations for teachers. This is confirmed by the long term and current differentiation of ‘them’ and ‘us’ describing the connection between school based staff and system administrators. The hardly respectful term ‘carpet-land’ is used by many teachers to express the lack of proximity they feel to those developing curriculum priorities and setting teaching agendas. Departments set school curriculum agendas to meet government whim and societal pressures, without taking into account how this will impact on teachers and students.

What they see is the iceberg tip

The work of teachers (and school leaders) reminds me of an iceberg. Only 10% of an iceberg’s mass is visible. The other 90% is hidden beneath the ocean, seen only by marine creatures. In the same way the work done by teachers and support staff is 10% observable and 90% unseen.

Many people believe that classroom teachers work for six hours each day five days a week. This 30 hour working week, reduced by public holidays, is complimented by 12 weeks “holiday” each year. When it comes to occupational comparison, our teachers are deemed to be people on ‘Easy Street’. Letters to newspapers and callers to radio talkback programs frequently slate teachers for lack of commitment and care for students. How wrong they are.

A criticism heaped on teachers, support staff and school leadership teams is that teaching is an easy job, generating far too many rewards. I have heard people say that teachers should go and get themselves a “real job”. Letters to newspapers regularly decry teachers as being too well rewarded for the tasks they undertake.

There are some of course, who appreciate the in depth nature of teaching and education: Sadly the view that teaching is superficial, appears to be held by many people.

Many students and parents appreciate ‘their’ teacher. However, in media releases and public statements about schools and teachers, there are far more brickbats than bouquets on offer. Criticism is often harsh and strident with acclamation of teaching positives being restricted to acknowledgement on World Teachers’ Day.

What is entailed

Teaching is far more than what is visible to the public. In fact, ‘teaching’ is but one small part of the educational equation. Detailed planning, preparation and programming, taking many hours of time, precede classroom teaching and direct engagement with students.
Beyond teaching there is the recording of outcomes, (testing, measurement and assessment), review and then the considerations of revision and extension. These educational elements go well beyond teacher and pupil interaction in the class room.

After hours commitment

A drive past many Australian schools before and after hours, on weekends and during holiday periods will reveal a growing number of parked teachers’ cars. Staff members are inside working on the huge number of tasks that embrace the teaching profession. Salary recognises teachers for around 37 hours per week. In real terms many are working upwards of 60 hours during the same period.

Teachers are one of the few professional groups not eligible for overtime payments to recognise extra hours at work. Police, firemen, and nursing staff work to fixed rosters and are remunerated if extra hours or shifts are worked. This does not happen for teachers in schools. The only person entitled to compensation for extra work may be the school janitor and only if pre-agreement has been arranged.

These days, there are more and more meetings in which teachers and staff members are required to participate. Staff and unit meetings, moderation meetings, performance management meetings and a plethora of other gatherings have proliferated. Most are held outside the scope of the normal working day and week. Teachers organise extended excursions. They coach and manage teams and groups involved in sporting and cultural exchanges of several days duration. Preparation for their normal classes before going is part of the deal. They are part of fundraising activities, school council committees and school improvement planning groups. The list goes on.

Unlike many professionals, educators do not always feel they can leave school at work. Programming and preparation, marking and updating data onto electronic files which transfer back to school records are some of the tasks that move classrooms to lounge rooms at home.

A ‘giving’ profession

Teachers and school staff members should not be knocked. They are selfless, giving and caring . Most teachers are there for others and without the work they do our society would be the poorer. I believe teaching is the most vital of all professions. It is one of society’s linchpin professions and those who work within it deserve to be valued and appreciated.

A Rejoicing Profession

My hope is that school based educators will come to feel good about themselves. A distinct worry is that our teachers under-sell and under-appreciate themselves. It is almost as if they expect to be put upon and criticised, accepting this as normative behaviour. That should not be the case. There needs to be a place for joy and rejoicing in the hearts of our teachers who contribute so much for so many.

At the end of each day, teachers should reflect on their successes along with planning for what lies ahead. Reflective, ‘feel good’ times are important and help in building feelings of confidence. That can help alleviate the stresses and anxieties that too often build up within the mindset of teachers who feel they have no right to rejoice.

I hope that teachers become more valued and appreciated by the community, by their employing systems and by politicans who set educational agendas. Equally, I hope that educators working in our schools feel professional joy from within.

Henry Gray


Published in the NT Suns in June 2017. This is the unedited text.



School principals and staff members are increasingly confronted by the issue of recognising and celebrating special days on our Australian calendar. Christmas and New Year coincide with school holiday periods and do not impact during term times. Others, including Australia Day, Easter, Anzac Day, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day take place during the school year. They are acknowledged in classroom programs and by schools.

Historically, there was no problem with celebrating these occasions. As a matter of course, classroom teachers covered them as days of significance. Australia Day, coming at the start of the school year, was a day recognising a period of changing direction in Australia’s history. Acknowledging and appreciating contemporary Australians and their contribution to society became part of the celebration. Easter cards, letters and cards for mothers and fathers and ANZAC commemorations were regarded as thanks and appreciation opportunities. Easter was about Jesus’ character of sacrifice and forgiveness. ANZAC recognition focussed on our defence force, their families and their selflessness in upholding peace and security. Mothers and Fathers days are timely reminders of the important part parents play in the upbringing of children.

In recent years, community resistance to celebrating these days has been rising to the surface. Some people see Australia Day as having negative connotations for Aboriginal Australians. Easter, in recognising our traditional religious base, could be embarrassing to migrants and others who have alternative belief systems. Others may use ANZAC Day as a chance to comment negatively on the roles played by governments in denying entry to some who would like to call Australia home. Finally, the celebration of mothers and fathers is seen by some as failing to recognise single parent families and families of same sex parents.

The character of Australia’s population has changed. We now have a truly multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population. The definition of ‘family’ is changing. Our evolving society has become more empathetic and aware of the role filled by Aboriginal Australians which was misunderstood for a long time.

While some modifications may be wise, there is no way our special days of celebration should be vacated. Abrogation would be very unfair on people and their need to rejoice as Australians in the country we call home.  Part of this is recognising values, beliefs and people who contribute as family and societal members, to the growth, progress and well being of our country. Broadening the scope of celebrated days to incorporate our diversity would be a wise option.




Over the years, “steady state” advancement and predictability have not been hallmarks of education. Nowhere is this better illustrated then in respect of providing physical facilities.

Prior to 2000, it was extremely difficult to obtain capital works money for major school improvements. Budgets were limited and competition for building programs quite fierce. Rejection and deferments of funding submissions were common and approvals rare. It was not unusual for a program costed at say $4 million, to be funded to a level of $2 or $3 million without the full amount being approved.

Applications for Minor New Works had no guarantee of being approved. Repairs and maintenance money carried qualifications and could not be used for everything that needed fixing. In total, the amount of money available for capital needs was strictly rationed.

This all changed when the Gillard Government introduced the ‘Building Educational Revolution’ to support and upgrade school infrastructure. From that point in time onward money has been poured at schools, but with the proviso that it be used for construction of physical facilities.

In the NT, Gonski funding came unattached to requirements that it be spent on classroom focussed programs. This allowed the NT Government to use the money for capital works. Henbury Avenue and Bellamack Special Schools were constructed using this money, while Acacia Hills (Alice Springs) was significantly upgraded.

Weekly reading of tender invitations in the ‘NT News’ confirms bountiful dollars still being found to support the extension of school infrastructure

Most recently, the Northern Territory Government has promised $300,000 to each Northern Territory school. However that money has to be used for physical upgrades and capital expansion.

There needs to be more to education expenditure then supporting the construction industry. While good physical facilities are necessary, so to are programs that best support students and staff in teaching learning situations.

It’s ironic to consider that schools have to constantly and minutely scrutinise internal budget management for the sake of teaching and learning. If the recent $300,000 per school allocation could be used to support these programs, that may have been a wise investment. It is the way in which students are educated now that will translate toward the future of our Northern Territory.

Educational expenditure needs to be balanced. Facilities are important, but teaching and learning programs are really what education is about.


Published in NT Suns in April 2017


Anzac Day remembrances taking place in our schools this week are particularly poignant. Many of our students have parents or relations serving in Australia’s Defence Forces. For them, Anzac Day is more than a recall of historical valour; it emphasises the fact that they and their loved ones are part of today’s defence cohort. Anzac Day is very much a reminder of their present situation.

Anzac Day remembrances are very close to the homes and hearts of these students. That is especially the case in Darwin and Palmerston. Our schools and communities have enrolled large cohorts of defence children. They are members of families who have to live their lives around the requirements of Australia’s defence leaders. Family rotations and parental assignments are part of their life.

Contemplating these issues can result in children feeling both unsettled and worried about the future. For defence families the issues of peace and conflict and the way they can impact on home life are very real.

Defence School Transition Aides (DSTA’s) have been appointed to schools with significant numbers of services children. They help both students and families settle into new schools. They also support those about to leave on family rotation. Rotations mean that children will sever friendships they have built during their time at the school. Included is help offered children who may have learning difficulties caused by leaving one educational jurisdiction and entering another. Tutorial support is available to these students and can be accessed with DSTA support. This extra help is available at no cost to parents. DSTA’s help defence families and students come to terms with these and other issues arising because of relocation.


The nature of our multicultural society needs to be interwoven sensitively into Anzac remembrances. There are formalities including flag raising, the Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post and Reveille that form part of school ceremonies. They add both dignity and solemnity to the occasion. Delivery of the Anzac Message could be hurtful if it had a ‘them’ and ‘us’ theme. The theme should be about a desire for the betterment of all people. There are no winners and losers in conflict situations, rather a loss for everyone.

Anzac Day remembers the valour of those who have given their all for others. If the remembrance can build oneness and unity, strengthening the resolve of our young people toward living good lives, it will have achieved its purpose.


Column published in NT Suns in February 2017.

Education is for the whole of life and the foundational years of schooling are the most important. Year 12 is one year of and along the continuum of learning and development.


Year 12 is often portrayed as the pinnacle year of education. Stories and conversations lay stress on the importance of this final year of secondary schooling. The years leading toward year 12 and those following, are often far less illuminated.

Year 12 is important as a year of study culmination. Stress is placed upon its importance to young people as they reach this crossroads in their education. Inability to earn a satisfying TER score is portrayed as a frightening concept.

Year 12 does not have to be a frightening year or threatening period. Neither should it be regarded as a stand alone year on the educational pathway.

Every year of school is important. Perhaps the most significant years are those from preschool through to year three. These early years are the foundation period during which key principles and precepts of basic learning take place. For schools focussing on holistic education, it is when principles of social, emotional and moral/spiritual development are added to a focus on academics. When undertaken in partnership with parents, this approach is one offering a stable base upon which character and educational development can take place.

Early childhood is sometimes discounted as not being all that important. This is entirely wrong, for the building blocks of education are set in place during these initial years of schooling.

Wise students are those who build upon previous learning year by year, gaining the most from school. This positive attitude will ensure that each educational challenge is met with fortitude, not worry or fear.

In the years leading to year 12, students have the opportunity to choose either academic or technical/vocational pathways. Appropriate choices will open up future options, academically or in trades occupations.

Year 12 is often portrayed as presenting new, possibly insurmountable challenges to students, but this only applies in cases where students have not made the best of their years leading to this point in time. While parents and teachers can help young people keep focussed, it is their inner motivation that counts. And those attitudes are born during initial schooling years

Our Territory needs young people who become future contributors to the economy. Whether or not we ever achieve statehood depends on our ability to consolidate the NT on a sound, sustainable economic footing. And that largely depends on today’s students.



Computers were introduced to school classrooms during the 1980’s. Initially, schools set up dedicated computer rooms and classes were rostored to have one or two periods each week. Students learnt about computers and how to develop documents for print-out.

Schools then moved to a number of units in each classroom and more time was devoted to student use of these tools. With the advent of iPads many schools encouraged each student to have their own personal device. In 2017, we would be hard pressed to find a school without computers or iPads. When electronic smart-boards and other supports are added, schools almost drown in technology.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware has increased, becoming a major cost item for schools. As well, items purchased are often outmoded within months of being bought.

Additional costs are significant. Software is not cheap and neither are licences needed to authorise multiple users. When maintenance needs are added to purchase costs, schools are faced with significant and ongoing budget commitments.

There are classroom pitfalls that need to be avoided.

Students tend to digress from what they should be doing with computer and iPads, drifting from learning to entertainment sites. It is imperative that students sign agreements about use of search engines, with teachers monitoring that commitment. Engaging with inappropriate sites can lead to big problems.
Games sites need to reinforce and extend student learning and need to have an educational purpose. Entertainment programs without educational merit distract students and waste learning time.

*Children sometimes play with networks that have been set, causing programs to crash or corrupt.

Misuse of technology by students can lead to cyber bullying and other inappropriate online conduct. Cyber bullying has reached epidemic proportions.

Students working on topics can be lulled into thinking that googling the topic, then cutting, uploading and pasting segments from existing sources into the text they are developing is fine. It isn’t! It is important that students think about and own their work, in order to understand topics. There is a distinct danger they could become plagiarists, taking the ideas of others and using them without acknowledging their sources.

Spell-checking and grammatical correctness are automated tools in many software packages. It is entirely possible for students to create and edit text, without understanding what they have written.

Computers, iPads and other devices can help support learning. However, they should always be used with care by students, under teacher oversight.
There is every chance that gadgets can become relied on to the point of detracting from genuine student learning.


This column, my first for the Suns this year draws on our Northern Territory experience. But this happens everywhere.


Schools are closed and teachers may be away during the Christmas holidays. However, policy decisions and priority setting does not stop during the festive season. When school leaders and teachers return for the new year, they are often introduced to new initiatives apparently developed during the holiday season.

That has again been the case during the past few weeks. Urban school staff begin the school year on Friday January 27. Their counterparts in rural and remote schools return to duty on Monday January 30. They will be greeted by new educational initiatives.

During the past few weeks, there has been a renewed focus on the importance of teaching Indigenous languages. There is a strong move in place to have traditional language study added to the school curriculum. Part of this is based on language being a support for cultural understanding. A parallel concern is that of Indigenous languages vanishing into history. The need for their preservation is one of the reasons driving this position.

Introduction to a language other than English (LOTE) is now an Australian Government priority for all preschools. Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is keen to have the program introduced as soon as possible. There is an anticipation that LOTE will also focus on older students. This initiative has been tagged as compulsory.

A third push is for the study of NT History to become obligatory in NT Schools. Former NT parliamentarian Matthew Bonson has urged that Territory history should be brought into focus in our classrooms (Sunday Territorian 26.12.16). Past administrator Ted Egan stated that it is ” … a big mistake that Territory and Australian history is given so little respect by not making it compulsory.” (Op cit)

Curriculum changes should never be based on ‘spur of the moment decisions’ about new priorities. The volume of teaching content confronting teachers and schools, demands that add ons are fitted in by dropping some previous programs. That should happen in order to make things fit and is also a matter of common sense.

Unfortunately, there is systemic reluctance about dropping curriculum content. Obligations on schools come with the expectation that staff and students will cope. It will be expected that extra content announced during this holiday period, will be managed within existing staff resources. Staff preparing for 2017 may feel the academic year ahead is a glass mountain they have to climb.

Holiday pronouncements about curriculum change should cease being a standard practice.