Last week was an interesting one for me. Trying to organise an external PD session hosted at school (click HERE for info), getting through some HSC Trial exam marking before the next lot comes in, beginning a Peer Coaching program led by our Learning Technologies Advisor, oh and trying to teach a bit too.
At no time did I even really think about two fairly significant announcements by the NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and his Federal counterpart Peter Garrett made on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd August respectively. The first, getting the jump on the Federal announcement, was from Piccoli introducing a discussion paper on the teaching profession. This discussion paper, amongst other things, argues that teachers who graduated from university before the year 2004 should have to go through the same rigorous – and at times extremely onerous and bureau-psychotic – process of accreditation and ongoing professional development or “maintenance” that us New Scheme Teachers do. Read an SMH article about it here.
The next day, our equally educationally qualified federal minister for Education announced that in a national program, teachers will go through annual performance reviews and “receive ongoing support and training”. For the media release, click here. These performance reviews will be based on the new National Professional Standards for Teachers that have been developed and are the responsibility of AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership).
As a New Scheme Teacher, I feel nothing beyond frustration at the fact that, unlike my colleagues who graduated just one year or more before me, I need to go through the Institute’s rigorous and very hollow process of proving my capacity to teach through documentation. I think that it could be an excellent way of recognising the strengths in the profession, identifying areas of weakness within groups and within individuals and supporting them, or at the very least a way to somehow acknowledge the core duties of a teacher in the 21st century.
I am incensed though by the fact that, as I tell most people who ask me about it, there is almost all stick and no carrot. Other than a magazine and e-newsletter, a couple of letters recognising various stages of my documentation process (e.g. a letter recognising thanks to completing a Masters degree in History – only three subjects of which were seemingly deemed relevant to my classroom practice – I have fulfilled the PD hours requirement of my current accreditation level), a few emails and phone calls mostly to have, in writing, evidence of what should be made clear by automated means… Other than those kinds of things – all administrative might I remind my few readers – the Institute of Teachers in NSW offers to me only the threat of heavy fines to my school if I am not appropriately accredited and the chance of banishment to the educational wilderness if I am not on top of my record-keeping for PD.
To be fair, I am sure the Institute does provide some kind of seminars – I’m sure I heard about it somewhere or from a colleague – to explain their purpose and process. It’s just hard to see the point of it all when there is nothing in the way of cash or time (which means cash) to support and encourage me or my school to do anything more than the minimum to ‘achieve’ the standards.
So do I really want the 80% of my colleagues at school who aren’t NSTs to have to go through this? Not unless there’s a clear link between all that administration, time and effort with some kind of professional support and improvement. Just being able to construct a good portfolio of documents does not make one a good teacher. It seems though that both the federal and state government each seem to have a plan. I’m worried.
The title of this post, though, goes to the very political nature of the debate over the teacher accreditation process. Whether it is state run or owned, or under the auspices of the federal government with the NSW Institute of Teachers as it’s enforcement arm, teachers on the ground do not care who is in charge, so long as the process they go through is valuable and worth their time. There may not be evidence for it, but I am sure that most parents and students would rather their teachers spending their free lessons and all those hours outside of school time preparing material for the most engaging, challenging and rigorous lessons they can create rather than to tick boxes in an office somewhere in their capital city. Or to spend time training one of the sports teams at their school rather than sit on a phone call trying to figure out whether their extra studies and PD ‘counts’ towards accreditation. Or to sit with a senior student who doesn’t quite get a maths problem for half an hour rather than sit and decide whether lesson plan one is better than lesson plan two.
At an ICTENSW workshop evening on Monday night, I was struck by how our Association needs to have each and every workshop accredited by the Institute (fair enough I suppose) but that if one is on the next level up to me, Accomplished, they need to have separate courses independently run and individually qualified as being on that level. So in other words, I can’t sit in on it and be accredited because it’s not linked to the right standards. This is bizarre to me. And what about the presenters? Surely they are demonstrating at least Accomplished if not Leadership level standards of professional engagement. This is where reality and administrivia collide.
I am totally supportive of the accrediation of any professional body. We want appropriately qualified doctors, nurses, accountants and teachers alike. Just as we need qualified builders and plumbers and bus drivers. However, if the mechanism by which one is qualified is taking so much time as to take away from the actual purpose of your vocation – for teaching, more than any other job is such – it needs to be either reworked or scrapped until an efficient, non-intrusive, positive and meaningful process can be established.
This phoney war between the states and the federal government over the education systems is, I hope, going to produce more than just political points, otherwise we seriously have to ask ourselves – do we need a new system all together, detached from politics of the day?
And, as my friend and fellow TeachMeeter Cameron Paterson (@cpaterso) raised in a meeting we attended recently: do we really want to link professional learning and performance? In that relationship, there’s certainly only one who wins. If professional learning is seen to be something done on which performance is judged, teachers aren’t going to engage in learning because they want to but because they must.
Tina Pratt (@tmc071) has constructed a Google Doc for teachers to give feedback on the many areas of discussion raised by Adrian Piccoli’s paper. Please click HERE to see and add to.
PS. I’ve spent about 30 mins writing this up – dare me to try and have it added to my Institute hours?