Teaching is a brilliant career for those who are thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, enjoy adapting to challenges, and being constantly emotionally and mentally engaged and rewarded. A teacher must be literate, numerate, a critical and creative thinker, reflective, world-aware, always learning, and willing to take risks and try new things. Teaching is a creative act, which improves with experience. Teaching is hard, and joyous, and undisputedly one of the most worthwhile careers in society.
But over the last decade or so, interference has crept in from the outside. Extra hoops to jump through; hurdles to pass. Standardised testing. Decreased funding. Extra administrative responsibilities. More standardised testing. More students, but tighter budgets. Fewer guidance officers (it’s okay, the chaplains can fill in the gaps, right?). More oversight. Digital pedagogies licenses. Even less funding. Professional standards requirements. New professional standards, a different assessment against these. Prescription, restriction, and overflowing curriculums. Centralised surveillance.
These interventions don’t enable or empower teachers or students. They don’t improve teaching or learning. They get in the way. They detract from and distract us from those activities that are worthwhile, for the sake of… what? A narrowed curriculum, leading to narrowed outcomes, and a future citizenry apparently uniform and compliant?
Many teachers, dedicated, conscientious, passionate, hard-working teachers, make the best of these interventions. They turn them into something worth doing, even if it takes clever manipulations, extra time, lost sleep, or funding out of their own pocket. They find ways to make these interventions work for their students and for themselves. They collaborate, and draw on the strengths and expertise of others. Experienced teachers are particularly good at this. They adapt. Others do the best they can with what they have. But every interference makes it harder for all teachers to do the job they have been educated and trained to do well, and to grow and develop as teachers themselves.
Today the federal government, who only a few short weeks ago were considering not funding public schools at all, have announced an injection of $1.2b over 4 years; returning just 4% of the funding they ripped out of education three years ago. It is conditional on acceptance of two new measures: new standardised tests for year 1 students, and performance-based pay for teachers. Neither intervention is backed by good argument, and there are plenty of good arguments against them. They will make it harder for teachers to do their jobs well. These are no doubt intended to address a perceived lack of confidence in teachers to do their jobs competently, a narrative that is perpetuated by government and the media on the spurious argument that our results are slipping internationally.
Mathias Cormann, the federal Finance Minister, made the point that education outcomes are not always driven by big spending.
“If you look at the evidence around the world there are a number of countries which spend less than us per student and which achieve much better outcomes,” he said.
He might be right, but those countries aren’t spending the limited funding they have interfering in the work of teachers.