Those bloody teachers…


Oh you teachers, you just want everything to stay the same – what’s wrong with choice?  Bloody teachers.  Typical that they don’t want testing – trying to hide that they’re all useless. What about our poor kids?  Gnash gnash.”

That’s what I hear, in various forms, over and over again in education debates, and it’s an ill-informed, simplistic and sometimes downright rude accusation.

Let’s look at some of the claims.

“Teachers hate change.”

Let’s just think about that.  Our students change all year round, and change with a BAM! at the start of each new school year.  The curriculum was changed not so long ago.  The Numeracy Project was brought in. Things change in education all the time – it goes with the job and teachers are used to that.

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And there are lots more things teachers would love to change.  Off the top of my head:

  • What about employing more admin staff and assistants so that teachers can spend more time on the educational stuff and less time printing, putting displays up, putting readers back and getting the next lot, and so on.
  • Have more teacher aides, and a system for them to get qualifications and training, so that special needs children have more support.
  • They would love to change that fact that so many children come to school hungry.
  • They would love to have more art, music, Te Reo and sport specialists in school teaching kids or training teachers to better teach kids.
  • They would love to change the fact that they are losing their libraries and librarians.
  • They would love there to be no school fees.

The list goes on.

No, teachers don’t fear change – they fear ill-thought-out, misguided change…

“Teachers think testing is the work of the devil”

Nope, not even close. Testing can be tremendously useful.  National Standards, however, are not so hot.

Don’t confuse the two.

National Standards data collection is an administrative exercise using tests that teachers already do.  It adds a layer of work that is unecessary for teachers and a labelling of students that can be downright harmful.  Is it for parents?  Not likely, since it is out of date before parents see it. Its only use is political.

What would be of more benefit than National Standards?

More professional development on testing methods to improve teachers’  testing skills, analysing and post-test-planning.  And more time and resources so that all of that can be done often and in a timely fashion.  Timely feedback is of huge importance.

They don’t want to prevent testing – they simply want the testing they do to be effective rather than political.

“Teachers don’t want to improve.”

Don’t be silly, of course they do.  They actually like learning.  It’s kind of essential in the job.  Not to mention, a teacher’s job is easier, more enjoyable and more satisfying the more they learn.

Different teachers need different levels of professional development.  Like any other profession, in fact.  So, rather than beating up on an entire profession, would it not be better to improve access to better quality training rather than the often average or useless stuff now on offer, fund more Masters courses, allow for more mentoring and so on?

Why not ensure all teachers know at least the basics about dyslexia, ADD, autism, Aspergers, behavioural problems, non-English speaking students, and dealing with distressed and abused children.

Instead of the almost daily bashing, why not do something productive to bring about more positive change?

“Teachers don’t want choice.”

Actually, no.  Teachers know there is room for choice and that it’s a good thing.  They know that no one system fits all.   Which is why, in New Zealand, we already have Special Character schools, home schooling, private schools, bilingual schools, correspondence school, Te kura kaupapa Maori, State integrated schools, special schools, Health Units, and teen parent units, single sex schools, day schools, and boarding schools.

No, it’s not choice teachers fear – it’s  poor choices.

For example, overall, after 20 years, US charter schools are now just about on a par with public schools.  So money has been diverted, schools pitted against each other, many public schools closed, and for what?  To take two decades for charters to improve enough to now match public schools?  Was all that disruption really worth it jusy to reach the status quo.

Forgive me if I don’t see that as an excellent plan.

“Teachers don’t want anyone in schools unless they have a teaching qualification.”

Yes they do.  They already have them!

The system is already in place to allow for teachers without formal teaching qualification to work in our schools under the Limited Authority to Teach (LAT) where the applicant shows they have expertise in the area in which they will teach.  I know first-hand one rather fabulous art teacher working under this very scheme, and there are many others.

In addition to LAT, schools up and down the country have speakers in, experts taking workshops, and so on.  In just a couple of weeks’ relief teaching in one school I saw an awesome presentation about protecting our sea life and a published cartoonist who ran rippingly inspiring art workshops for every child in the school.   And the Dream Team has been welcomed by schools throughout New Zealand just this month.

Embracing experts is one of the things schools do brilliantly.  But that is not the same as allowing some schools to have classroom teachers with no experience, no qualifications, and no provent expertise.

A change for the better 

Isn’t it time to stop making sweeping judgements about a whole profession?

Improvement is the goal.  And the only way to get that is for all of us to share ideas and listen to each other.

Read up, ask questions, look into what is already available in NZ, find out what is working (or not) here and elsewhere, talk to kids, talk to teachers, question politicians, then mull it all over and help identify changes that really will help make positive change.

That’s surely, in the end, what we all want?


Adapted from an article I first published in October 2012.

Further reading:


  1. Reducing the insane workload of primary school teachers – who work 50 to 80 hours a week – has never been a priority for the government.

    A far-thinking government would see the high burnout rate (more than half of teachers quit within five years) as a horrible indictment on working conditions in schools, and actually fund administrators to do the bulk of the tedious stuff. The education system would benefit from having more expert teachers and more experienced teachers in every school.

    But oh well.

  2. Well said. Over the past two decades our teachers have demonstrated outstanding adaptability (as the Govt continually changes the educational terrain), ingenuity (to implement changes – often with incomplete guidance or direction from the change-makers), resilience (in the face of continual political assault and battery), perseverance, and commitment. I truly believe we are amongst the best in the world.
    As I see it, our greatest weakness lies in the lack of any form of unified voice for education. Actually, it is the lack of a single voice for educators. Instead of unity, all too often the backs of teachers in one sector are exposed to the barbs of unfair criticism and resentment from those in another (more deserving/harder working/more qualified) sector. Our infighting is our undoing.
    Hekia Piranha (et al) has guaranteed that the Teachers’ Council will only ever be a voice for Government, not a voice for teachers.
    The STA seeks to present a singular voice for the ‘primary stakeholders’ – our Boards of Trustees. However, all too often this voice, in the attempt to gain some form of political foothold, is turned against the (undeserving) teachers.
    Then there are the Unions. What can be said of, or for, the Unions? They seem to be habitually in a state of civil war. NZEI and PPTA both seem to be obsessively engaged in some form of crazy dutch-auction, where the winner is the one who bargains away the largest share of its members’ hard-won contractual entitlements. There is finger pointing and point scoring but very little appearance of any form of cooperation between these two educational Unions.
    We need a voice; a unified voice; a voice without stammer or faltering that cries unequivocally for the right of New Zealanders to truly equal access to the highest quality of education.

  3. And safe working conditions.

    And classrooms that have decent heating, lighting, noise control (for those rooms near airports and motorways.)

    Sadly, there’s not much anyone can do about the numpties who complain about how hard it is to fire ‘non-performers’, and want bonus payments for some version of ‘excellence’. For goodness’ sake, even on assembly lines performance pay does not inspire more productivity, or lead to fewer errors.

    Thanks for spelling it out.

  4. Great article.

    “No, teachers don’t fear change – they fear ill-thought-out, misguided change… ”

    This really needs to become the left’s meme on this issue.

  5. Surely it’s clear that we need to do away with having a “Ministry of Education” at all. They are just a variety of ignorant bureaucrats- all these past decades introducing & dictating ill founded “policies” (from where??) that have done nothing but exacerbate and obscure the no. one problem in education today: declining literacy standards (and thus) general dumbing down of society, (to say nothing of the unacceptable stress on teachers today)
    All the schools along with parents of NZ need to unite and say – “No More of this Bullshit…From now on WE will decide on what’s going to happen in our schools”
    (but I guess that will never happen)

    • I don’t think I can agree with you Cassie . . . today’s students may not be familiar with Pride and Prejudice or Othello but they are experts in multi-literacy (online, smartphones, visual, etc). I would venture that the working vocabulary of today’s students would match that of previous generations – it’s just that a lot of us oldies refuse to accept some of their lingo as legitimate.

      • It’s not about vocabulary.. but comprehension, critical thinking & complexity of ideas..
        For example, an item I came across -“the Public Decline in Scientific literacy & its impact on Medicine ”
        (this was USA-where this “dumbing down” effect is already being widely noticed and of huge concern..the writer noticing how today’s students were “unable to understand relatively complicated texts with several layers of meaning”..with the result that “This country soon will have several generations of citizens who aren’t capable of asking, let alone answering the difficult questions that will shape our future”
        This is what I’m referring to. It’s also very true in NZ..look at how what passes as “News” is dumbed down..people’s thinking has been “dumbed down” see it every day. It’s frightening. People believe everything they read in the Newspaper, they have no ability to discern opinion from fact..they believe politicians, because they’ve lost the ability to analyse “doublespeak” and tell when they’re being lied to etc etc etc.

        • A couple of points:
          – you comment on the need for the ability to discern to opinion from fact and yet this and your earlier comment are opinion . . . the “dumbing down” is merely a subjective statement making a negative comparison between a previous era (the good old days) and the present.
          – you note the need for critical literacy and the ability to read for hidden intent or double entendre. I agree – however I do not believe that this style of thinking has ever been promoted by our education system. Consequently I don’t believe that this is a particular failing of our current system. It is a failing of the system as it has always been.

          I do believe that we need to pass on the skills that are needed to be critical thinkers – and this is actually happening in many schools. Sadly Natzional Standards, focusing on assessment and reporting, and the narrowing of the curriculum all militate against being able to successfully complete such a lofty task.

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