Monday, May 1, 2017

Train Teachers to be Professional

In "Here’s what is wrong with testing teachers and Teach For Australia" Keith Heggart (1 May 2017) discusses and dismisses both raising the ATAR and using ah-hoc teacher programs. However, Heggart does not offer a viable alternative. I suggest training teachers to be proactive professionals, who take responsibility for how to teach.

Teach for Australia encourages graduates, particularly in STEM, to take up teaching. This has a high profile currently, being the subject of a SBS TV documentary "Testing Teachers". It is good to see there are some idealistic individuals willing to sacrifice a high paying career to go into teaching. This makes good TV, but clearly is not a viable public policy. If you want highly qualified teachers, then you have to train and pay them all accordingly.

For similar reasons, I suggest that raising ATARs will not improve teaching quality on its own. Why would a university student choose a teaching degree, if they can select an alternative leading to higher pay, less stress and shorter working hours?

Heggart proposes reducing teacher workloads, but does not provide a strategy for doing this. If teachers are willing to work long hours for little pay, why would governments and employers be motivated to change that situation? I suggest that the teachers themselves need to be trained to change this.

Teachers can be trained to be true professionals, who make decisions about what and how they teach. One part of this would be for teachers to cooperate to design the way they teach so it makes efficient use of their time and that of the students.

Rather than just responding to demands on their time and spending long hours filling out useless paperwork, teachers could be trained to prioritize their time. Teachers could work out what is important for their student's learning and allocate time to those tasks. What is not important for learning and for which there is no time should simply not be done.

The issue of how to teach is now being debated at universities. ANU is demolishing its central lecture theater facilities. I have suggested we take the opportunity to do our teaching differently. Lectures are not a particularly useful way to teach university students and so I have suggested we stop doing it.

School teachers can be trained to design learning to efficiently use available resources. The scarcest of those resources are teacher and student time. Teachers can be trained to use technology to reduce administrative burdens and also to collaborate with their peers. Rather than a teacher alone in a classroom, being told to fill out a whole lot of forms, they can focus on actually teaching.

This is not to suggest some sort of revolutionary takeover of schools by teachers. Instead it is suggesting teachers be trained to take responsibility for teaching. Trainee teachers can then have support from mentors and peers on-line. As they advance through their careers teachers can include the role of planning and implementing the future of education as part of the work of a professional.

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