Challenging the public discourse on the teaching profession


What can we do to challenge the public discourse about our profession? The Queensland College of Teachers is providing evidence to do just that.

Recent media reports have again challenged the quality of teaching in Australia. These reports are often ill-informed, with unsupported and spurious data sources.

There is evidence that the teaching profession is beset by decreasing numbers of people choosing to enter teacher education programs, increasing numbers of people leaving the profession within five years (although a Queensland College of Teachers report published in 2013 suggested that this attrition does not appear to be higher than in other professions), and increasing reports of stress of those in the profession. Studies indicate that these phenomena are occurring worldwide (Gallant & Riley, 2014; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

These challenges within the teaching profession exist in the context of an ageing workforce and a projected influx of young people into the school system over the next few years. These reported demographic changes will intensify teacher shortages across Australia.

How do we challenge the media reports and address the impact on our profession? There are many areas within the complex systems of schools and teaching which are beyond our influence, but we can focus on what is in our control. We need to counter the prevailing misinformation and problem-oriented discourse with respect to the quality and preparation of the teaching profession, with what is a growing body of powerful information.  In this blog, I will focus on two specific sources which we can use to challenge this discourse – data on the unique nature of who chooses to be a teacher, and information on the significant improvements in quality assurance measures for the teaching profession which have been introduced over the last decade.

First, we need to remind the public about the unique characteristics of those who choose to be a teacher. Contrary to popular opinion, recent research prepared for the Queensland College of Teachers by the Learning Sciences Institute of Australia (Wyatt-Smith et al., 2017) reported that “The numbers of teachers viewing teaching as a temporary or fallback career were insignificant” (p. viii). Rather, the top five motivators for choosing teaching as a career are:

  • intrinsic career value
  • teaching ability
  • shaping the future of children/adolescents
  • subject interest
  • making a social contribution.

Second, contrary to repeated citing of ‘poor’ ATAR scores as the sole source of evidence about the quality of entrants to the profession, we need to acknowledge that the ATAR is only one source of data accessed, and then only for recent school leavers who represent a small proportion of entrants to the profession. It then needs to be acknowledged that students only graduate from their teaching course if strict standards have been met.  Finally, teachers are registered as provisional, and need to address additional standards to transition to full registration.

We need to be vocal about the recent initiatives within the profession which have enhanced quality teaching. With these initiatives, the public can have an increased confidence in the profession. These reforms include the introduction of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in 2011. These seven nationally agreed standards detail the professional knowledge, practice and engagement required of teachers across four career stages – Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.

In addition, the recent national review (TEMAG, 2014) into initial teacher education (ITE) identified rigorous accreditation processes for initial teacher education programs as part of 38 recommendations which aim to strengthen the development of well prepared graduate teachers. Specifically, the following demonstrates the current status of these reforms:

1. Selection • All annual entrants to ITE programs assessed for academic and non-academic abilities
• All ITE providers publish clear entry requirements
2. Quality Assurance · All ITE providers redesign programs to meet rigorous new standards
· All ITE programs regularly updated based on evidence
3. Robust assessment of graduates · Assessment tools to assess classroom readiness of graduates developed – in Queensland the Graduate Teacher Performance Assessment (GTPA) developed by a consortium of universities was the first Teacher Performance Assessment to attain national endorsement
4. Primary specialisation · All primary teachers from 2019 will have an area of specialisation to complement their general expertise
5. Professional experience · Higher quality university-school partnerships provide deeper professional experience for pre-service teachers
6. Beginning teacher induction · Induction guidelines developed for use in schools
7. National research and workforce planning · Impact and effectiveness of ITE and teaching are measured

We have an increasing body of evidence to stand up and share about the increasing strengths of our profession. This strategy is within our control. In the next blog, I will focus on strategies for systems to continue to support the development of our profession.


Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Further reading

Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. (2011). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Melbourne: Author.

Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A. Lin, Hammerness, K., Low, E. L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M., & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gallant, A., & Riley, P. (2014). Early career attrition: New thoughts on an intractable problem. Journal of Teacher Development, 18 (4), 562-580.

Queensland College of Teachers. (2013). Attrition of recent Queensland graduate teachers. Author.

Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). (2014). Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education.

Wyatt-Smith, C., Du Plessis, A., Hand, K., Wang, J., Alexander, C., & Colbert, P. (2017). Why choose teaching? A matter of choice: Evidence from the field. A report prepared for the Queensland College of Teachers. Brisbane, Queensland: Learning Sciences Institute Australia.

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2 Responses to Challenging the public discourse on the teaching profession

  1. karen says:

    I am in my third year of teaching this year as a Kindergarten teacher and a mother of a son with dyslexia. One of my main criticisms of my university teaching course is how it didn’t reflect evidenced based practice in the teaching of literacy and include instruction in teaching systematic synthetic phonics and basic to advanced level phonological awareness as recommended in the Australian Government’s 2005 national review of teaching of literacy. How can we be proud of our profession when it is not teaching 20 to 30 percent of students in our classrooms to read to their ability level? The scientific research is very clear however the universities and majority of schools are yet to recognise this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Baxter says:

    I have heard much of this poor regard teaching is held, in the minds of the public, and in the media.
    “You only work 9 to 3”. “You get so many holidays.” “You’re just glorified child minders.”
    Yes, we’ve all heard those lines. A decade ago, when on prac placements, I steeled myself for critical public comments. I’ve even spoken of this poor public view, myself in general conversation with other teachers.
    Then I reflected on it….
    I realised that I was repeating what I’d heard – from others in education. I simply have not heard it from the public, nor in the media.
    It’s group-think, and it’s no longer based on contemporary facts. I doubt that a victim mentality is a characteristic of teachers and education academics. However, we know our industry is heavily unionised. I’m hoping I’m not the only one who has noticed that the good old ‘Us against the World’ victim story is fed to us long and loud, by our QTU branch secretaries and other district reps, at monthly meetings.
    (Oh, and then there’s the uncomfortable reality that there are indeed, a FEW lazy, underskilled and/or indifferent teachers out there. There are indeed graduate teachers who can barely string a sentence together! Oh, and those who write the C2C lessons, and select the supporting resources and activities? Some of that mob should be deregistered! Those in the media or the wider public, who have had to deal with THESE sort of teachers, are very much within their rights to share their criticisms.)

    I concede that I avoid commercial media sources, because… well, I’d like to think we should all know why it is such a compromised medium. I’m sure there are still the occasional e’mails to News Corp editors, from ‘Grumpy, of Aspley’, or some rheumy-eyed ‘back in my day’ whiner from Outer Upper Slaughters Crossing, Nth Qld. Do all that many people take these cliched rants, as a fair assessment?
    I don’t socialise with teachers much, but I’m VERY social. I’m a moderate-to-heavy consumer of social media, but when online, I do NOT hang around in a like-minded agreement bubble!
    The stereotypically poor public view of teaching, just doesn’t seem to be there. It’s definitely there for politicians, cyclists, lawyers, used car salespeople, police, and other sectors/professions in our society – undeservedly, for the most part – but NOT for us!
    It’s only ever trotted out by some teachers, many school leaders, and of course senior academics. It’s a charming old chestnut. A rousing, unifying bit of propaganda from a union delegate. An ice-breaker in staff meetings, conventions and uni lectures. It makes us feel comfortable, because we’re familiar with it.
    Are we smart, objective and honest enough, to admit it’s just not true anymore?

    P.S. You know what makes me feel comfortable? The thanks and congratulations and interest and respect that I find offered, by a wide range of people, who don’t even know me. 🙂


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