The occupation of teaching is respectable but not respected in Australia. The nation’s teachers are considered to be law abiding, trustworthy, patient, kind, reliable, dedicated and altruistic, but their profession is not afforded the same status as other professions.
Australians collectively adhere to the adage,
If you can, do, if you can’t, teach.
There is an underlying assumption that English teachers are all failed writers, Maths teachers are failed engineers and Art teachers are failed artists. PE Teachers are failed athletes, and none of the teachers could ‘hack it in the real world’. Teaching as a profession, especially at primary or high school level, is perceived to be well below other professions such as medicine, law, finance and IT.
Academia and intellect have never been highly valued in Australia. The country’s national heroes are athletes, farmers, soldiers and lifeguards, despite the fact that Australians have been behind inventions such as WiFi technology, the cochlear implant, the black box fight recorder, spray-on skin, the electronic pacemaker and permaculture…
Better you than me…
Australians constantly remind teachers of the challenges of their profession with remarks such as these. Aussies tell teachers, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, or ‘what you do is so wonderful’ – but underneath all of these statements is the message,
I’m glad you work as a teacher, so that I don’t have to.
Parents themselves will tell teachers,
‘you must have the patience of a saint‘ to put up with teenagers, even when it is their own teenager who most tests the teacher’s patience. These are all nice things to say, but none of them convey any sense of respect.
The land Down Under also has a famous disrespect for authority, including teachers. Secondary school teachers understand this and know that earning the respect of their pupils in the early stages of the school year is imperative. This is forgivable – students are children. A lack of respect from adults indicates underlying cultural issues in Australia, in which a profession so vital to the prosperity of the nation is severely undervalued. It is, however, possible to transform the respectable profession into a respected profession, in order to benefit teachers and the nation as a whole.
Pay the teachers or pay the price
Australian teachers need to be altruistic, because they earn so little. In NSW, the average, experienced teacher earns about $80,000 per year. This is a decent wage when compared to other occupations, but not when compared to other professions such as law, medicine and IT, and not when considering that a public bus driver in Sydney can earn the same amount.
Salaries must increase in order to attract the best and brightest graduates to the profession. Society complains that many young teachers lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, and that criticism is often justified. The best way to attract more capable graduates to the profession is to raise salaries. Don’t forget, Australia is an expensive country, and a capitalist country in which income determines the worth of an occupation, and in which income determines a person’s ability to enjoy a decent standard of living.
The country is already paying the price for a lack of respect for teachers. Literacy and numeracy rates among children continue to fall, and the country trails other comparable nations on standardised education outcomes. University undergraduates display poor command of literacy and numeracy, and Australia’s youth will be competing with young people from all over the world for employment in a globalised world.
What’s wrong with a country in which those educating the next generation will struggle to buy their own house?
If Australia is to compete as a nation at international level, it must give more money and more respect to teachers.
Parents used to support teachers, now they attack them. This paradigm shift has been great, but recent. Modern parents will almost always side with their children and will blame teachers for their child’s poor behaviour, poor work ethic and poor grades. Some of the treatment of teachers is shocking, and it points to a diminishing respect for the teaching profession.
Data collection is the new fad in education. Politicians and bureaucrats demand more and more data collection from teachers. It is mostly unnecessary and adds more paperwork to overworked teachers, who then can’t concentrate on teaching their students.
Data collection implies a lack of respect for teachers. It implies that teachers don’t know the individual and collective strengths and weaknesses of their students. NAPLAN is a classic example. It is a very time consuming task designed to show teachers and schools where their students are succeeding and failing. The bureaucrats ignored the fact that teachers already know this. Furthermore, excessive data collection provides no educational benefits, and exists primarily to provide politicians with statistics for their press releases. Most other professions would have an administrative assistant to carry out the same administrative tasks.
Ironically, Australian society shows little respect for teachers, but charges them with enormous responsibility. The curriculum encompasses everything from English and Maths to driver education, drug and alcohol education, cyber safety, anti-bullying, and so much more. On the one hand, it is natural to deliver these lessons in a place where young people are assembled en-masse, but how much of this can, and should, be taught by parents? To understand the enormous scope of the modern curriculum, look at the topics covered in the PD/H/PE subject.
Politicians and bureaucrats must take blame for this also. When a teenager dies of ecstasy, a new drug education program is demanded. If a child drowns in a backyard pool, a new water safety program is demanded. When a new educational program is demanded, it is implied that existing education programs are insufficient, and that teachers are not doing their job.
Bleeding heart lefties
Another criticism of teachers is that they are now all bleeding heart lefties, and that a left wing ideology has taken over Australian schools. Conservative voices love to make this claim.
If you want less left wing influence in schools, pay teachers more. People enter teaching mainly through a sense of altruism – to serve children, to serve society and to make the world a better place. Altruistic people are not motivated by money or wealth and their world view is thus likely to favour the common good and the health of the society, and not the individual. If conservatives want less left wing influence in schools, they could pay teachers what they are worth, and perhaps attract graduates who are currently chasing money in other professions and have a different world view.
That said, most secondary teachers would be very surprised if any of their students listened to them long enough to become ‘bleeding heart lefties’.
Australia now belongs to a global community. It must compete with other nations like it never has before and it’s prosperity depends greatly on the health of its education system. A strong education system is comprised of teachers who are not only respectable, but respected.