It is no surprise that a slew of articles about the teaching profession appeared yesterday May 1st. Neither is it a surprise that it took a violent physical attack on a teacher the day before, to get the issue onto the National public radar. Sadly, a dedicated primary school teacher became the face of an epidemic currently raging through K-12 education in Australia. An epidemic that is affecting a generation of students as their teachers fall victim to a demoralising system. An epidemic that is going to have serious economic consequences if we don’t find a cure quickly.
The term ‘demoralisation’ was brought to the issue by former teacher Gabbie Stroud in her book Teacher, published in June 2018. On the panel for an ABC Q&A Stroud explained that “demoralisation is this idea where you as a professional know very, very clearly what is best for your students and the direction you should take them in and you are told again and again to go in another direction.”
It may seem to be a huge leap from ‘demoralisation’ to physical violence but if you pay attention to all that is being said, you realise that this latest incident is unsurprising. It is merely the physical expression of the constant and damaging psychological abuse that teachers are living with daily. And they can’t live with it long. The following articles published this year speak to the consequences.
Shannon Molloy’s extensive article ‘Australian teachers are ‘at the end of their tethers’ and abandoning the profession, sparking a crisis.’ published in news.com.au on January 10th, 2019 is subtitled Difficult kids, abusive parents, endless admin and less actual teaching. No wonder almost half of new Aussie teachers quit within five years.
On the 9th of February 2019 the Herald published an article by Erin Canavan titled ‘Why up to half of Australian teachers leave the profession within the first five years.’
The economic cost is obvious. It takes 4 years to train a beginning teacher. If they are remaining in the profession for less than 5 years, then we have to train enough teachers to completely replace the workforce on a regular basis.
Last year Federal MP Andrew Laming (L/NP) created waves when he made a number of comments about teachers working hours. It led to the establishment of an official parliamentary inquiry into the Status of the Teaching Profession.
I will admit up front that I was sceptical about the results of the inquiry. It had been announced very late, just before Christmas, and they were spending only one 4-hour day in each city. That did not seem to be very much time to hear from all the stakeholders, but I was determined to attend the session held in Melbourne on Wednesday March 6th.
Reverting to the habits of a teacher, I was there for the duration. Surprisingly, the people presenting weren’t. They had obviously been given a time they needed to be present. So, I think I was the only person, other than the panel members, who was there for all the submissions. I took copious notes, as all good teacher/learners do. At the end of the session I actually felt quite positive. There appeared to have been a genuine interest in what teachers and educators had to say. Consequently, I was pretty stunned to read the article in Education on April 1st. Let me say here, the writer, Geordie Little was reporting. It was not an opinion piece and I have no argument with him.
The article, Inquiry into teachers’ status unveils most pressing issues facing educators, previews the findings of the Parliamentary Hearing into the status of the Teaching Profession and reports that one of the biggest issues to be addressed was around the number of hours teachers worked. No surprises there. However, according to Liberal MP Andrew Laming, whose comments last year had precipitated the enquiry, ‘there were some quite divergent views on this issue of take-home work, and there was also very limited data.’ he goes on to say that ‘the researchers told us the total number of hours that teachers assessed that they work and we know that there’s lots of bias in self-reporting to start with, but what we couldn’t work out is what teachers are doing with those hours.” He then questioned whether the extra work is ‘authorised by the principal, how much of it is known of by the department.’
At this point I had to do a time/ space check. Something that teachers are familiar with. Had we been in the same room? Had I missed a whole layer of information? That sinking feeling returned. That horrible moment where an educator’s natural optimism collides with the stark reality of an abject lack of understanding. A lack of understanding of what a teacher’s day actually looks like. My evil twin is having a little fun with the idea of teachers lining up to ask the principal or the department for approval to do marking, prepare lessons, or write reports after school hours, when the immediate and relentless demands of children have been moved back to their parents.
I want to go back to the time of day that a teacher was physically attacked. 7.20am. According to my last payslip as a full-time teacher, I was payed for 5 hours a day. That is all. If a teacher is at work at 7.20 am then I guess they are supposed to leave by 12.20pm. Where does that leave the students?
Laming’s comment, ‘so there’s an absolute lack of data beyond self-reporting by teachers of how many hours they do,’ underscores the belief that teachers are not to be trusted. They can’t be trusted to report honestly about the number of hours they do. They can’t be trusted to use the hours effectively for work. They can’t be trusted to know what work needs done. But apparently, they can be trusted to care for our precious children for a large part of each day, but not enough to pay them appropriately. Perhaps we need to get teachers to fill out timesheets like lawyers. If they could only get students to wait patiently while they log every conversation, request or parent phone call they make during our ‘lunch break.’
In revisiting my notes from the day, I was comforted that I was not losing my mind, as there were several people who spoke about research and studies which addressed the issue of the hour’s teachers worked and what that work was. Marking, preparation, research and parent communication being only the obvious ones.
Labour MP and deputy chair Susan Lamb said that there were recurring issues raised. There was a lot of conversation around the responsibilities of teaching staff, so their expectations versus reality and what they are prepared for and what they know they’re getting into. Lamb also spoke of the ‘conversation about society’s value of education, and in particular the importance of early childhood education in establishing the value of education.” I spoke to Susan Lamb briefly following the hearing about the number of older women leaving profession without sufficient financial security. This had been raised elsewhere which is not surprising. That K-12 education is dominated by women possibly contributes to its lack of status in a male dominated society.
As the hearings took place over a period of time, some of the findings had become public prior to the Melbourne session. Tony Moore, writing for The Brisbane Times on February 25th 2019 pointed to teacher attrition as being a crucial issue. He also made note of the Queensland Teachers Union submission which claimed that ‘”micromanagement of teachers”, an obsession with “standardised testing that undermines professional expertise” and an “overwhelming tendency to report negatively on the profession” as major perception problems.’
Those were certainly the issues that were addressed in the Melbourne sessions.
I feel like I have done a complete circle from scepticism to hope to disappointment. I have not heard whether the final report has been released yet. I imagine it would not help the current government so I doubt we will find out.
The remit for the inquiry can be located at: https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore. and the detailed transcripts will be included in Hansard.
Because this is a public document, I have attached here the notes I put together. Even though they serve to highlight my naiveté and may contain errors I thought they were worth sharing.
Parliamentary Hearing into the status of the Teaching Profession
Melbourne Public Hearing
Wednesday 6th March 2019 9.15am – 1.15pm
University of Melbourne
Andrew Laming Lib/NP Federal Member for the Division of Bowman
Susan Lamb ALP Federal Member for the Division of Longman
There were 2 other people on the panel, but I didn’t get their names.
The remit for the inquiry can be located at:
https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=e58e4798-cd9a-45d5-9f59… and the detailed transcripts will be included in Hansard.
Andrew Laming got a lot of bad press when he made comments about teaching hours last year. As was to be expected, if you challenge a group of teachers you can count on an immediate and articulate response. Laming followed up with a clarifying article that displayed a genuine concern for the workload of teachers.
It was this latter concern that was in evidence at the hearing. The panel were open about not knowing or understanding the work of teachers and emphatic in their desire to hear from teachers and teacher educators.
Session 1. Roundtable witnesses:
Teach for Australia (#59)
Ms Melodie Potts Rosevear, CEO
Mr Glen Lutwyche, Principal, Ulverstone Secondary College, Partner school.
Australian Education Union (#32)
Ms Correna Haythorpe, Federal President
Applied Linguistics Association of Australia (#68)
Dr Louisa Willoughby, Vice President (through telephone hook-up)
Country Education Partnership (#48)
Ms Kate Roache, Project Officer
Jason Whiteley, Committee member
Dyslexia Victoria Support (#84)
Ms Sarah Gole, Member
Ms Simone Mitchell-Nolan, Member
AUE Federal President, Ms Correna Haythore opened by addressing the issue of funding. While funding is important, it is actually the constant attacks on teachers that cause the greatest harm.
Dyslexia Victoria Support member Ms Simone Mitchell-Nolan pointed out the lack of training of teachers in the area of dyslexia and other special needs. She pointed out that in many places’ dyslexia does not attract special assistance or help which means that the classroom teacher is on their own. The vast majority of teachers are driven by the desire to give their students the very best learning experience and the stress that results when they can’t is not insubstantial.
Country Education Partnership Project Officer, Ms Kate Roache, spoke about the difficulty of attracting good teachers to country schools and retaining them when they got there. She also spoke of the difficulty that country schools have with the State based teacher registration systems. A national certification tool would make it easier for teachers to move between remote areas in different states.
Ms Melodie Potts Rosevear, CEO of Teach for Australia also spoke of the importance of attracting good teachers and offering much more support to early stage teachers once they have them. Interestingly she advocated positioning teaching as an act of leadership which it really is. To facilitate this, she emphasised the need for a different dialogue and language to speak about teaching.
In the centre of the room a set of speakers allowed for remote input from Dr Louisa Willoughby, Vice President of the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia. Dr Willoughby spoke about the further marginalisation of language teaching. Very few schools can offer full time loads for languages and it is common for language teachers to have classes in subjects they had never studied. She says we need to be able to offer language (English and LOTE) teachers’ better options.
At this point the Chairman said that from what they were hearing, workload issues seem to be the major problem.
The AEU spoke to this with evidence showing that classroom teachers performed an average of 53 hours critical work each week and Principals 60 or more. The frightening thing, and this has been published in a public report available on the AEU website, is that over 50% of the time was spent on Admin and compliance rather than on the core work of teaching. ‘In time’ reporting was constant. Also, big picture planning. This was picked up later by Clare King in the 2nd session. They also said there was anecdotal evidence that reports, and lesson plans were being written for the sake of writing lesson plans. Jason Whiteley, from Country Education Partnership said we needed to pay attention to the data that suggests that lesson plans are about accountability rather than about giving teachers guidance in their classroom. The situations where lesson plans are required to show everything in the curriculum is being covered results in providing plans for annual, term and weekly content. This is a very poor use of teacher’s time as time commitment is onerous and it often ends up being done by one teacher for the department.
Dr Willoughby, spoke to the issue of planning, particularly in Victoria. There has been movement to try and bring rural teachers together to plan, but it’s hard because of time and space and implementing this can be tricky.
There was an older woman on the panel (Anne) who asked a number of questions and she wanted to know about the relevance of accreditation modules, she questioned whether schools should have a business manager to manage all the things around compliance and accreditation, rather than using teachers. (I am not sure about this. I have been in schools that had a business manager who was not an educator and did not understand the chaotic nature of a school. It can cause very real problems. Perhaps there could be a stream of promotion or training that teachers who were interested in this role could have access to.)
The AEU stressed the need to listen to teachers as they’re the ones who know what is happening. They talked about the value of professional conversations. They suggested that these are very much a part of PD and PLNs (professional learning networks.) They also pointed out the variations between states of access to PD for teachers. I would add, between schools and departments. Once again remote schools and teachers were at a disadvantage. The Union suggested that schools need to be supported with admin help. That it is no longer reasonable that teachers who are not trained for Admin are expected to carry that load on top of teaching.
Mr Glen Lutwyche, a principal from Tasmania spoke to the idea that we need to get students ‘learning ready’ rather than ‘workplace ready.’ He pointed out that if students didn’t have a handle on reading and writing and speaking, they were unlikely to learn much and therefore would not be prepared for the future of work. He stressed that long term planning is good in theory, it needs to be constantly tweaked. (As we know, a plan is fine until it meets the cohort of students sitting in your room) Again the importance of PLNs was raised and how they usually take place in a teacher’s own time. Anne asked whether PLNs could be counted for teacher accreditation.
Once again, the AEU talked about workload and raised the issue of teacher autonomy. How do you attract smart and committed people into an environment that constantly demands they provide evidence that they are actually doing their job? Autonomy is a major issue in trying to attract teachers.
The AEU then spoke about one of my own pet peeves. Data. There’s a lot of data available for schools but not necessarily the data we need. Data can add value but has added to the workload, the disaster of Naplan data is case in point. The obsession with data is downgrading teachers’ professional judgment.
I have been involved in the EdTech sector for the last couple of years. I have seen numerous EdTech’s pitching their data collection product as the magic bullet that will make education better. I am still waiting to see a product that gets the data that a teacher actually needs. Will their data tell me why a normally diligent and positive student has suddenly become surly and lost interest in learning? Or why the text we have to teach is not resonating with the students sitting in front of us.
Dr Willoughby then stepped in to talk about other kinds of standardisation and the fact that electronic reporting has created more issues as teachers are often presented just with dropdown menus rather than actually being able to speak to the individual student’s progress. Once again, she spoke of the problem for language teachers (and other elective teachers) of multiple reports based on limited exposure. If a teacher has 240 Japanese students across the school, then they have to write 240 reports and they may only have seen those students, once or twice in a week. Anne asked if there was some common ground between LOTE loads and ESL and perhaps it’s worth looking at those two as a double method. Dr Willoughby says schools are not good at making positive models for LOTE and ESL teachers, mostly in primary schools.
Sarah and Simone from Dyslexia Victoria Support talked again about teachers need for better training and Ms Melodie Potts Rosevear from Teach for Australia talked about early career teachers’ need for coordinated support, supportive skill develop and need for better use of tech and training in tech.
Mr Glen Lutwyche from Tasmania spoke about the involvement of Teach for Australia in Tasmania. He said that principals needed teachers with good skills who could be adaptable and that he relied on Teach for Australia for recruiting teachers.
At this point Kate Roche from Country Education Partnership spoke about what we all know, that many teachers are teaching out of their field. This is even more widespread in remote areas. Added to this, teachers and principals in remote areas are expected to be involved in community activities, which adds to the workload.
Susan Lamb asked whether there was a funding model that would help us get better outcomes and there was no consensus about this. Glen Lutwyche wondered why we don’t see ads around public education on TV. Like the ads we see for transport and health and what the government is doing about hospitals and transport. It was pointed out that you can’t use health service models in education, they just don’t work.
Perhaps the reason they don’t do ads about education is that, according to Correna Haythorpe from the AEU, only 87 public schools will reach the required standards by 2023. This is largely a funding issue and is not going to be fixed by some of the fast-tracked programs. They are concerned that programs like TFA are not necessarily going to be good for teachers. The AEU claims we need to see a funding model that will ensure all schools reach the benchmarks. They also claim that the Northern Territory needs a huge infrastructure investment by the federal government. Good funding, they said needs to meet the needs of the individual schools. Schools and students are not standard and issues such as dyslexia, poverty, speech pathologists, and other things will vary.
Glen Lutwyche said that they do have fair funding in Tasmania and that funding goes to where the need is. That was not the experience of most who were there.
Laming asked some questions about a program that I am unfamiliar with and can’t find, but it seemed to have something to do with dyslexia. It was highlighted that in many places’ dyslexia is not considered to be a learning disability that needs funded. And there is a need for discussion around the relative funding for different education difficulties.
The AEU challenged the idea of money going to independent schools. They stressed that money should not be taken from wealthier public schools to give to less wealthy ones.
Susan Lamb asked about how we get teachers to teach our students with disabilities. Simone Mitchell-Nolan spoke about the need for professional training to be able to teach those students.
The chairman asked whether it would be reasonable for pay to be tied to subject areas. This suggestion was quickly squashed as it would be a nightmare to manage. (I have to say that I thought Laming was not serious about this idea but wanted to ask the questions. Given that that is what we want our students to do we can’t really complain. But I am no longer confident in my reading oft he room.) It would also create a hierarchy which is exactly what we don’t want. Dr Willoughby argued that differentiated pay was not the answer, but better funded PD could help.
Melodie Potts Rosevear, from TFA raised the question about why teachers enter the profession. As we all know it is not only about the salaries. Teachers are also learners and they need funding for more professional learning.
The plight of remote schools was again referenced. While we generally believe that there are incentives for going remote there are actually no significant incentives.
Final comments in the section were around getting good candidates into teaching and the huge rise in tutoring services.
It was suggested by Anne (on the panel) that we could link absenteeism to Centrelink. This was not taken well and was soundly rebutted. It was stressed that the relationship between the teacher and the student needs to be valued and you can’t make teachers and schools the bad guys. It can’t come from the schools, as a society we have to convince parents that education is important. Anne alluded to a successful model in Doveton in her electorate.
I have done some looking and it does seem to be a good model.
Session 2. Roundtable witnesses:
11.15am – 12.45pm
Dr Lawrence Ingvar son (#27)
Former teacher and former member of the Australian Council for Education Research
Dr Colin Harrison (#16)
Former teacher and university professor.
Ms Clare King (#81)
Claire Brown, National Director, AVID Australia
Justin Bokor, Director, Justin Bokor Advisory
University of Melbourne (#77)
Dr Jim Watterston, Dean, Graduate School of Education
Professor Lorraine Graham, Learning Intervention
Associate Professor Russell Cross, Languages Education
Deakin University (#22)
Associate Professor Bernadette Walker-Gibbs, Education (Pedagogy and Curriculum)
RMIT University (#58)
Dr Nicky Carr, Senior Lecturer, Education
The second session seemed to focus mostly on the teacher training bodies, though Clare King’s presentation seemed to add a structure around which the others spoke.
Dr Waterston was first up, and he talked about the work of teachers. He is from MGSE. He also put forward that the quality of leadership is important and that there was a need to fund the training of principals prior to them being appointed. This is different from the current system where teachers just going through a process and suddenly becoming principals because they knew the right jargon to put on the application, but there was no real understanding of what the job required. (Interestingly the Labour party has announced a plan to provide exactly this type of training) Professor Graham, also from MGSE talked about how teachers and students can both benefit from having teaching assistance. She also said that it was essential that time was made available for collaboration between teachers and teacher aides.
Also, from MGSE, Russell Cross talked about language teachers and how their subject is often treated as an ad in with no clear understanding of how important learning a new language is. He argued that LOTE needs to be more integrated. This revisited an issue spoken about in the morning session.
Associate Professor Bernadette Walker-Gibbs from Deacon has a passion for rural and remote teaching and has been involved in the reading and writing studies in teacher education. She argued that when new teachers leave their teacher training facility they are often left to their own devices. This is particularly problematic when they are offered only short-term contracts. Often valuable PD opportunities are not available to these teachers when they need them the most. The situation is compounded by the fact that there are no mentors available for new teachers. In many rural schools there are no experienced teachers on staff. Susan Lamb asked about the expectations of student teachers and most on the panel agreed that these students still had an expectation of permanent employment after they completed their degrees. Quite reasonably, teachers are not prepared to uproot themselves and move if they are only being offered short term contracts. Walker-Gibbs spoke about the need to establish teacher networks for early graduates, particularly the ones in remote places.
Claire Brown from Victoria University talked about how it is not really clear what the burdens on teachers were, they can differ from place to place, and that they need to be offered sustained professional learning. She said that we really need to come up with a better model for how we train and support new teachers.
Clare King, a primary school teacher, painted a vivid picture of a week in the life of a teacher. From the requirement to apply 40 different assessments over a short period of time, to the demand for detailed and extensive planning documents that could run to 20 pages, and the growing need for IPLs for several students in a class. IPLs take an enormous amount of time to set up and monitor. Hours are spent collecting ‘evidence’ to show that teacher ‘professional standards’ are being met. This created a constant stream of ‘busy work’ that had little to do with the core purpose of building relationships with and teaching children. (I was impressed by the active interest that the panel showed towards Clare’s words. There was no hint of disbelief. In fact, it appeared that the panel were already aware of the situation and were pleased to have it so clearly articulated -not sure if I read that right.)
Dr Colin Harrison claimed that the overarching problem was the top down compliance model. He argues that if we want to improve the system and raise standards it is essential that we empower teachers. The issue of data collection was raised again by Dr Lawrence Ingvar son who spoke of it as an obsession that, added to teacher’s current workload, meant that teachers just did not get the time or space to ‘teach.’ He claimed that the major threat to teaching standards was the failure of governments and other bodies to address the status of teachers. He said we need to get a national education system and support it well financially. He believes that this is the way to attract high quality students to the profession of teaching. The government need to ensure that teaching is seen as equally important as medicine and law.
Dr Nicky Carr, from RMIT, claimed that primary teachers do not leave because of the money, they leave because of the emotional stress of the job. They also leave because of some serious bullying on the part of administrations.
Mike O’Connor, a science guy, (not sure where he was from) who worked with both primary and secondary teachers spoke about professional learning in the schools. He pointed out that the huge turnover of teachers and staff meant that professional learning was very choppy and that there needed to be more focussed programs available. He also spoke of the need for ‘subject specific’ professional learning. While it is easy for schools and districts to offer curriculum specific PD, they are less likely to offer subject specific ones. However, he stated that in secondary schools there was a lot of out of field teaching and those teachers needed subject knowledge and material that they could actually use in their classrooms. Dr Jim Watterston added to this suggestion of better training by pointing out that 80% of teachers are women and preparation for and training in leadership is just not sufficient.
Anne (on the panel) asked about the causes of casualisation and the need for research on the effects and asked that we look into what causes the casualisation and how bad that is. Dr Nicky Carr, said that there’s no real data yet that helps to track this.
The representatives of Victoria University brought up the point that many teachers, (I would think particularly in the humanities) they have discovered actually do not want to be administrators. Great teachers may want to be a leader in their classroom or their department, but many don’t want to be an admin leader. They want to be a leader in their classroom. Dr Lawrence Ingvar son then spoke of the need to re-conceptualise our definition of what leadership in schools actually means. Then we need to create leadership opportunities that appeal to good teachers. The current model where admin is bogged down under a pile of compliance paperwork is not going to do that.
Susan Lamb asked why people would chose teaching as a profession and Clare King said that teaching is not about teaching anymore and most teachers, we know have figured that one out. Susan Lamb then asked if there were ways of stopping teachers from leaving. She suggested maybe some sort of sabbatical or professional learning time, a break from whatever is doing the damage. Someone pointed out that teachers who love their subject don’t start teaching for the paperwork. And we know that to be true. Dr Cross pointed out that testing is not helping, there is too much busy work and not enough learning work.
Andrew Laming then talked about the use of technology in assessments. Particularly in students’ access to the technology. Mike O’Connor, the science guy, pointed out that that was good in theory, but there are still so many issues around how tech works in schools that it is just not reliable. He claimed that there are always going to be issues with tech and that standardisation is not the answer.
Bernadette Walker-Gibbs pointed out that because of state systems standardisation is not really valid. Dr Nikki Carr explained that while an MRI of the brain will be the same for a child in Victoria and a child in Western Australia, their understanding of other things may differ. For example, a picture of a bowl of cherries can only be translated by someone who understands what they are and where they come from. (This is what I talk about re ‘cultural signifiers). Dr Carr further pointed out that medical models and examples don’t work in education. And Nicky pointed out that medical examples don’t work in education.
The representatives from Victoria University referred to a 3-year study of maths teachers in Primary schools but I must have forgotten exactly what this was in reference to. Mike O’Connor then emphasised what we all know, that teaching is about relationships. Dr Carr raised the issue of mentor fatigue. They had discovered that less than 40% of schools are prepared to take pre-service teachers because of the extra paperwork and admin that that entails.
Some closing points:
Walker-Gibbs -In Qld, Independent schools often have better retention.
Dr Waterston – We have some of the best schools in the world, (which having taught him several places, I know this to be true) and we need grow the pockets of excellence and stop losing teachers. We need to stop looking overseas because they’re busy looking at us.
Mike O’Connor – We need collaboration, not competition.
Victoria University – Talked about needing a repository of good ideas and a mechanism to share them. They also spoke of the need for non-cognitive data, which, for good reason, is not publicly available.
Several witnesses spoke to concerns over how data is used. They agreed that it should never be used for ranking. Also, how do you measure something that can take years to develop.
Dr Lawrence Ingvarson talked about the need for a national curriculum for teacher education. The variation of what teachers need to know is not helpful, while there are standards that need to be met for accreditation content can vary significantly between States.
Session 3 12.45pm – 1.15pm
Mr Andrew Oliver (#74)
Former Education Student
Spoke about the need for a career progression, but that the criteria are not always helpful.