“Oh you teachers, you just want everything to stay the same – what’s wrong with choice? Bloody teachers. Typical that you don’t want testing – trying to hide that you’re all useless. What about our poor kids? Gnash gnash rant rant...”
That’s what I hear, in various forms, over and over again in the debate about charter schools, and it’s an ill-informed, simplistic and sometimes downright outrageous accusation against the profession. The huge majority of teachers care deeply for the education and well-being of their students – indeed all students.
Also, teachers are busy people. They can’t be bothered arguing about things that don’t matter, and they certainly haven’t the time or energy to fight good policy. So when they do stand up and start asking questions, there’s a good reason for it.
Let me just be clear about how most teachers feel:
We do not fear change – we embrace it.
We do not object to choice – we love it.
We do not fear professional development – we enjoy learning.
And we do not oppose testing – we test regularly and value the role that testing plays.
What teachers do object to, though, is change that will not benefit students and is ill-thought-out.
Let’s look at some of the claims.
Teachers Think That Testing Is the Work of the Devil
Nope, not even close. Testing can be fabulous. We can learn a lot about where our students are from tests, and we analyse the results alongside all that we know of the student to plan where the student needs to go next. National Standards, however, are not so hot. Don’t confuse the two.
National Standards benchmarks are ropey (and John Key used that word about the standards first, not teachers).
The data is out of date before parents see it. The standards don’t tell parents or anyone about how children are progressing. They do no more than previous methods of informing parents did, and are no more reliable.
What would be of more benefit than National Standards?
- More time and resources to do classroom testing and plan from it so it is immediate and current and is used for each child to move forward right now. Timely feedback is very important.
- More training on testing methods so all teachers understand what good testing and quality analysis look like.
Testing needs to be effective and useful, and help children progress, otherwise it’s pointless to anyone other than politicians.
Teachers Are Useless and Don’t Want To Improve
If you believe this, you don’t know many teachers. Some are brilliant, some are great, some are good, and a few could do with improving. Like any other profession, in fact.
Rather than beating up on an entire profession, would it not be better to add to the opportunities for professional development, fund more Masters courses, and support more mentoring programmes like ACET?
It would also help to make sure that all teacher training courses are of a very high standard and are teaching trainees about different methods of pedagogy, know in detail about how children learn and the stages they generally pass through, and know in detail about dyslexia, ADD, autism, Asperger’s, behavioural problems, TESOL, and dealing with distressed children.
Teachers are very keen to learn more and do ever better. It’d be a good plan to support them fully in that.
Teachers Don’t Want Choice – Same Schools For Everyone
Actually, no. We all know there is room for choice and that it’s a good thing. We know that no one system fits all. Which is why, in New Zealand, we already have Special Character schools, Steiner Schools, home schooling, private schools, bilingual schools, correspondence school, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori, State integrated schools, special schools, Health Units, teen parent units, single sex schools, day schools, and boarding schools. 
The concerns about charter schools are not about choice but about the fact that worldwide they have been shown to cause more problems than they solve, increase segregation, lead to many fraud and mismanagement cases, and rarely improve students’ educations.
What charter schools have proven to be excellent at is moving money out of the state sector and into private hands, and therein lies the the reason they are promoted.
None of that is to say the people running New Zealand charter schools are not doing the best they can. The issue is not with individual schools, it is with the charter school system, which, once allowed, brings more problems than it solves. It’s the kind of situation we really don’t need in our education system.
…And They Don’t Even Want Experts, Just Because They Don’t Have a Teaching Qualification!
Yes, we do. We already have them! We already allow for experts or teachers without formal teaching qualifications to work in our schools under the Limited Authority to Teach (LAT). That system has been in place for years, allowing many people without teaching qualifications to successfully work in schools.
So no, it’s not the case that we don’t want anyone at all without a teaching degree. It’s more that we don’t want people with no teaching degree and no experience and no expertise, which is what can happen. Once the changes are put into law in the Education Act, there will be no guarantee that the untrained staff will be experts in anything.
You have to ask yourself why that would be a good move?
For The Love Of All Things Holy, Please Don’t Let Things Change
… said no teacher ever.
There are lots of 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 books back, and so on?
- A far better support system for special needs students would be a great change that would help all students.
- What about more teacher aides, and a good system for them to get qualifications and training?
- We would love to change that fact that so many children come to school hungry.
- We would love there to be an honest recognition that socioeconomic factors impact students in many serious ways, and then for there to be support for children in those situations.
- We would love to have more art, music, te reo and sport specialists in school teaching kids or teaching us to teach kids.
- We would love it if change to education policy was based on sound research rather than ideology.
- We would like to have school nurses visiting regularly.
- We would love to have sound gifted and talented programmes in all schools.
- We would want to change and reverse the decline in our libraries and loss of librarians.
- We would love it if there were no school donations.
Yes, there’s plenty we’d be more than happy to change. And not just for change’s sake.
The only way to progress our system is for all of us – teachers, whanau, the whole community – to research, query and learn, and for us to share ideas and listen to each other.
All the data in the world is meaningless if there’s not enough training and support for the people trying to make a difference. So read up, ask questions, look into what is already available in New Zealand, find out what is working elsewhere, talk to kids, ask questions of teachers and politicians, and help identify changes that really will help progress our children further and faster.
Isn’t that what we all want?
References and further reading: