Fighting for Equity in Education

The struggle is long but hope is longer

Who is for teaching?

Thursday February 15, 2018

Some things never change – the report in The Age (10/2), ‘Tradies to be taught to teach’, sadly illustrates the profound lack of understanding of the complexity of the skill of teaching children in our schools. Like an albatross around our necks, the words of George Bernard Shaw unfairly continue to haunt the teaching profession, many decades after they were used by Shaw to disparage teachers – “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

What conclusion can be drawn from the Turnbull government’s announcement that a national review of teacher registration, will examine ways in which the process for becoming a teacher around Australia will be streamlined in order to make it easier for people in the trades and other professions to switch careers? It begs the question of why aren’t teachers being encouraged to rapidly retrain as tradies, nurses or for other professions, to fill skill shortages in rural Australia?

The federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham is correct when he says that, “people such as tradies who have done the hard yakka on the construction site could bring new skills and a different perspective that could be invaluable for student learning.” As a policy, however, for building substantial capacity in our teaching ranks across the country, it is seriously flawed. Has Minister Birmingham forgotten that we are experiencing a disturbing shortage of highly skilled tradies in a number of areas? Which tradies are Minister Birmingham hoping to entice to the teaching profession – those highly skilled, and often difficult to access due to the high demand for their services, or those further down the skill register and looking for more employment? One way or another we all lose out.

More broadly, this approach, unoriginal as it is flawed, neglects to tackle the fundamental reason for which it has been promoted. That is, why can’t we firstly attract to, and then retain enough high calibre teachers in the profession? It’s a long stretch to argue that it is because we have made it too difficult for people in other professions and trades to transition into teaching.

It is a theme too common – to seek solutions to teacher shortages and questions of skill levels by dressing up time worn strategies of luring other workers to the teaching profession as something more than quick-fix answers. The much-vaunted Teach for Australia program has hardly set the world on fire with many the graduates leaving within a short period of time. The program aims to address teacher shortages in disadvantaged schools by having high achieving graduates from fields other than teaching parachuted into these schools on a fast-tracked introduction to teaching and learning approaches, child development and practical pre-service training. What other profession would consider such a high-risk strategy?

We should know better. After all, in our sport-focused nation, aren’t we all only too familiar with examples of champion players rushed into coaching positions, more on the fact that they were outstanding at playing the game, but proved to be failures when it came to be the ‘teacher’ as the coach? Thankfully, wise heads leading our national game Aussie Rules, have now implemented rigorous pre-coaching training programs for would be AFL senior coaches. Many of the skills that constitute quality teaching have found their place in coaching manuals and those skills deserve respect.

In my many years in the teaching profession, I have witnessed many changes. Not all of those changes have made our profession more attractive to would be teachers, and that is sad. Teaching encompasses so much more these days than just a decade or two ago. Technology has revolutionized the classroom; accountability has reached staggering levels and schools are expected to address students’ family issues much more than in years gone by, with too often, too little enough external support. Then there is the no small issue of student learning outcomes and the ever-mounting pressure on schools to deliver better NAPLAN results in literacy and numeracy whilst addressing everything else in the curriculum too.

Dealing more effectively with these issues requires more sophisticated strategies than simply encouraging people to make a career change by swapping their current occupations for a teaching career. It is telling to note that the federal government has a tin ear when it comes to listening to the opinions of those in the teaching profession across Australia. One can only hope that tradies out there are not guided by the words of George Bernard Shaw on this initiative.

Henry Grossek
Principal
Berwick Lodge Primary School

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