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.