Following my last blog, two opposing opinion pieces related to its theme have been published by the ABC: Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers (Bahr and Ferreira) and Teachers can earn more than dentists – and other reasons to enter the profession (Pendergast and Exley). Both pieces have been written by experienced educators who are committed to and passionate about the teaching profession, and from the perspective of recognising very real challenges in our field. I want to comment on each piece, and encourage you to read them and engage with your colleagues about the best ways to identify and address the challenges in our professional context.
The article giving seven reasons why people no longer want to be teachers begins with well-documented declines in the number of entrants into initial teacher education programs. The authors posit that these declines are due to fixations in teacher education with competency at the expense of the interpersonal dimension of quality teaching; ‘obsession’ with standardised testing and lack of autonomy in curriculum and pedagogy; work intensification including repeated ‘additions’ to the work of teachers of education that has formerly been done in the home; negative public reporting of teaching through to actual ‘teacher bashing’; and poor salaries. The authors conclude that we need to return to “appealing to the vocational drive of those who love leading others to achieve by raising the profile of these attributes in teacher education programs”.
I agree with the concerns raised by Bahr and Ferreira and applaud their conclusion. While there are very specific skills of teaching, personal attributes are also of vital importance in quality teaching. However, as I suggested in my April blog, I believe we need to focus on countering a problem-oriented discourse with examples of strong positive information emphasising improvements in our profession, especially over the last decade.
This is the strategy employed by the second opinion piece, which focuses on seven reasons to enter the profession, with the aim to “lift prospective teachers out of the quicksand of despair and toward a future of opportunity and fulfilment”. This is such an important aim as the repeated negative messages about teachers have a psychological and emotional impact on individual teachers, and collectively, on the profession. Pendergast and Exley focus on some of the positive changes to enhance the profession in relation to the rigour applied to both teacher selection and initial teacher education (refer to my April blog which outlines more of these changes). They also argue that it is possible for teachers to demonstrate creativity within the national curriculum. In line with my April blog, these authors draw from a Queensland College of Teachers commissioned report, ‘Why choose teaching?’, and emphasise that most teachers are motivated to choose teaching as a career for laudable reasons; that is they want to be teachers. Pendergast and Exley counter the claim of poor salary, noting the positive potential for career progression within the profession.
My previous blogs have emphasised the unique and complex nature of the teacher’s role. Both sets of authors of these opinion pieces acknowledge how our profession depends on quality teachers as much as quality teaching. They encourage teachers to continue to share positive examples of their practice, and of the outcomes for their students of this best practice. Let’s actively counter the negative messages with our own strong stories of success. Let’s choose to celebrate the uniqueness of teachers, and the unique contribution they make to individuals’ lives and thereby to the social and economic future of our country. As teachers, let’s join with Pendergast and Exley and influence others to teach.
The next blog in June will continue this discussion on promoting our profession, and focus on the role of systems in supporting the profession.