Monday, 11 March 2013

What we need to do to support teachers

Jane Caro in Hey politicians, leave those teachers alone argues that we need to make teaching desirable again if we want to attract the best and brightest:
If we really want to help our teachers, both new and experienced, to do their jobs to the best of their ability, we need to do some fairly obvious things. First, give the teachers in the toughest schools the support they need. Larger class sizes may be fine in nice middle-class schools, but in schools dealing with the really tough social and behavioural problems that generational poverty and marginalisation can cause, they will make everything worse. The really tough schools may need teachers aides, social workers and behavioural psychologists on staff to free teachers up to do their job.

We need to lower the workload on teachers, particularly for young teachers and those in tough schools, so that they can de-stress and get the support they need to survive. We certainly don't need to add to their stress with more testing or hoops to jump through.

We need to give them time to do specialist professional development and experienced mentors to coax them out of the fetal position and give them strategies to cope. (By the way, the current mentoring program is being scaled back.) Just as you can only help children develop effectively by supporting their mothers, so you only help children learn effectively by supporting their teachers.

If we simply raise the ATAR and the hurdles that must be jumped over before you can do a teaching degree, but continue to throw young teachers to the lions unsupported, all we will do is have an even higher churn. The brighter the teacher, the more choices they have, so if this is all we do, expect teacher retention problems to get even greater.

But if we support, nurture and respect our teachers, and acknowledge and reward the degree of difficulty they face in their extremely demanding jobs, we won't have to artificially fiddle about with ATARs and interviews. If we make teaching a desirable job again, the ATARs will rise all on their own.

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