What counts is hard to count when it comes to raising teacher status

24 November, 2020

Why the teaching profession is not better respected is confronted in a new book by Professor John Buchanan (University of Technology Sydney) which confirms that our union’s long-standing Teaching: It’s Our Profession campaign remains relevant and essential.

Challenging the Deprofessionalisation of Teaching and Teachers cites two intertwined reasons that IEU members know well: a preoccupation with teaching basic skills and an obsession with international school rankings.

Standardised tests narrow curriculum

Associate Professor Buchanan argues that the standardisation of teaching practices and content has forced teachers to teach unengaging, “basic skills” material, which in turn lowers student motivation and achievement.

This means teachers also have less time to focus on creativity and innovation – not only because they are preparing for NAPLAN, for example, but because these attributes, while priorities in the Australian curriculum, are not assessed.

Buchanan said one of the significant catalysts of this is an obsession with international competition.

“I concede that in some of these basic skills tests, Australia is falling behind,” Buchanan said.

“This has led to stricter credentialing of teachers and stricter outcomes, but it makes them lack courage to be more innovative with education delivery, which means school becomes more boring for kids.”

Blame game should focus on system

The result is one our union has fought against many times, including every year when NAPLAN scores are inevitably turned into click-bait league tables: teachers bear the criticism of student performance rather than the system which is responsible.

Despite this and the fact they are prime stakeholders, teachers’ views are not taken into account when designing curricula, according to Buchanan.

“Increasingly the expertise of teachers has been disregarded,” said Buchanan.

“More and more teachers have been given prescriptive directives in terms of what they need to do, facing very stringent control measures.”

Teachers best equipped to decide what happens in classroom

Buchanan’s book highlights that curricula and teaching policy are often designed by bureaucrats and education academics, who may have little or no practical school teaching experience.

It is assumed that teachers don’t know best.

Buchanan compared this perspective to the medical profession: who would think to say they have a better grasp of medicine than its practitioners?

Buchanan said that when teachers and teacher educators raise issues with education delivery, they tend not to be listened to.

“That’s an expression of that disregard for the professional knowledge we carry as teachers and teacher educators.”

Remote learning may have given parents insight

In isolation during COVID-19, parents across the country got an insight into what teachers go through every day.

“Parents have come to recognise how complex teaching is,” said Buchanan.

“Parents doing distance learning have, say, two children and they realise the teacher has 20 or 30.

“The community has come to realise this: teachers are frontline workers.

“Without teachers, the economy implodes.”

The Australian Curriculum lists several cross-curriculum priorities, including critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding, and personal and social capabilities.

Since these aren’t assessed, though, teachers may be forced to focus more strongly on other areas.

Teaching: It’s Our Profession

Buchanan believes that by making critical thought central to education, we may be able to begin to restore the professionalism of teaching, and more engagement to students’ learning experiences.

IEU-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said best practice teaching allows teachers to educate and respond to the individual learners in their classrooms.

“Instead, teachers are finding themselves caught up in more and more red tape and administration tasks rather than teaching,” Mr Burke said.

“Teachers are experts in their practice – new policies and standardised practices enforced in classrooms take away from teachers’ ability to use their professional judgement.

“We need to give teachers the capacity and the autonomy to do what they do best: teach,” Mr Burke said.

Read the book: John Buchanan. (2020). Challenging the Deprofessionalisation of Teaching and Teachers: Claiming and acclaiming the profession, Springer.

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