Teachers and professionalism

Teachers and Professionalism

By any measure of professionalism, teaching has to be, far and away, at the top end of the totem pole of the caring professions. Recruits from an academic background, with special knowledge and abilities denied to others, especially a high esoteric mastery of all elements of teaching and learning, they are also conformers to strict self-regulatory codes of conduct, usually members of a learned society that is dedicated to professional development…..and, in particular…… contributing to society’s welfare in large measure, claiming high levels of autonomy of performance, engaging in creative and intellectually enlarging work, and ideologically neutral in the work-place. Although a high standard in maintaining these criteria can be very difficult and demanding, parents can feel very proud of Australian teachers who do,…..like Sam Pidgeon, below.

If one listens to talk-back radio or attends public meeting that focus on educational topics, however, one will know of the increasing public assault on teacher professionalism and pupil performance which the Australian profession has tolerated since 2008 when corporate power took control of education policy. It’s no coincidence. It’s now a popular pastime . It will increase in exponential proportion to the gimmickry that comes with NAPLAN testing, as we all know, because degradation of teacher performance is an essential part of the Klein design. We knew that from Day 1. Our professional societies knew that. The general public knew that; and have made the most of it. One cannot help but feel that the assault on teachers is actually enjoyed by our testucators, the on-the-job proponents and approvers of NAPLAN testing. .

Our reactions, sadly, are always passive. We don’t resist because it is not in our nature. Despite the enormous damage to the spirit of schooling we remain dumb. We are a placid, compliant group. Some say that timidity is part of our cooperative nature, a teaching requirement; and our school leaders are of little help because they more disposed towards brown-nosing than to ‘sticking-it-where-it-belongs’.

Canadian Cory Steeves, in a telling article concerning the de-professionalizing of teachers suggests that de-professionalization of the teaching force is essential to the corporate attack on public education. The consequence of our mild-mannered interest in the policy of education makes it easy for them.
“If teachers are not involved in the creation of the policy, and yet are held accountable for its results, then clearly this is something that is being done to teachers rather than with them, and thus represents on attack on public education. As Steeves puts it, “I believe that if teachers are not meaningfully influencing policy-level discussions about what constitutes teachers’ work, then public schooling might be seen as under attack, or ‘terrorized’.” Teachers become ‘technocrats,’ objects of policy which is determined by business interests, and are held ‘accountable’ via the surveillance of testing without ever being asked for their input. This ‘accountability’ disperses power through teachers (and their evaluations based on test scores, for instance). The professionalism of teachers, which assumes the ability to make decisions, is thus greatly denigrated. Teachers become the tool for increasing test scores, which Steeves calls ‘accountingization’, rather than professional decision makers concerned with the complexities of educating (not the simplicity of ‘achievement’) the students they are entrusted with.”

If teachers are not involved in the creation of the policy, and yet are held accountable for its results, then clearly this is something that is being done to teachers rather than with them, and this represents on attack on public education.


Steeves turns to E.Wayne Ross to provide a useful description of accountability : “ Accountability is an economic interaction within hierarchical, bureaucratic systems between those who have power and those who don’t. {It is} a means of dispersing power to lower levels of hierarchical systems. Those who receive power are obligated to ‘render an account’ of accomplishing outcomes desired by those in power. … Accountability schemes obfuscate identity of higher authority ; serve the interests of status quo/unequal power relations.”

In other words, corporate interests, particularly school authorities and their others agencies, duck-shove responsibilities for test results on to teachers and pupils who are the victims of policy that usually has weird origins and nation-threatening outcomes. There are no mechanisms for professional examination of the integrity of the innovation, too often borrowed from an alien culture and may have even failed there [e.g Klein’s SBTesting]. In accordance with such political manipulations, blame [aka accountability] has to be accorded to those at the lower end of the system’s hierarchy who quietly acquiesce. “ Yes,” says Ross: “Teachers need to be accountable, BUT to the learners.” There is a major difficulty when teachers do not have a big belief in their own level of professionalism. In such cases, the only ones who lose are the learners. Those teachers who lack professional ethos and personal standards are as threatening to social justice, learnacy achievements and the country’s future as official card-carrying corporate testucators are. We all need to join our classroom peers, like Sam Pidgeon, and recapture our profession.

At the nitty-gritty level, Ms Sam Pidgeon put it clearly in a Queensland Teachers’ Journal article VOL 120 No 2 of the Queensland Teachers’ Journal of 1 March 2015. Sam Pidgeon is Vice-President of QTU and titled her article…

Sam Pidgeon

We need to strike a balance between accountability and transparency and having trust in teachers’ professional autonomy and capacity.

If you are wondering if you are the only person currently experiencing an unprecedented level of supervision, interference and micro-management of your day-to-day work in the classroom, the answer would appear to be an emphatic ‘”no”. If you’re in this position, should you work with your colleagues to reclaim your professional space? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes”!

Whether it’s instructions on when and how subjects will be taught in the classroom or expectations that data will be gathered and recorded so frequently that makes it hard to conceive of when the actual teaching and learning that will lead to improved student outcomes might take place, the anecdotes appear to be consistent across the state. No, it’s not just you. It’s not just your school or your region. And it doesn’t look as though it is going to stop anytime soon.

Technology, education research, curriculum, curriculum support materials and the ever-growing data sets available to us mean that we’ve never before experienced a time when so many people outside of the classroom seem to have an idea about what should be going on inside them. It would seem that gone are the days when teachers were presented with professional learning or exposed to new ideas or strategies and then given time to go back to our classrooms and try things out, to see what fits with our own style and what works best in our context with our students. It’s ironic that in these time of unrelenting focus on differentiation, we find ourselves confronted with the expectation that one-size-fits-all prescriptive approaches will be implemented in the classroom and enforced through regular checks.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on a particular area of pedagogical practice or raising student achievement in an aspect of learning or curriculum. In fact this can work well for students in providing consistency, and can be a powerful way of developing the capacity of the whole staff as they try new things togetr and share their reflections on what worked and what didn’t.

The problem emerges when instead of creating a culture of trust and professionalism in the school, a culture of mistrust, low morale and in some cases fear emerges. Teachers are highly skilled professionals who deserve to be given professional autonomy to go about their work within the context of the school-wide curriculum plan and strategy. When we demand that schoolwide change is undertaken in a culture of respect and trust based on the premise that everyone wants students to do well, we can do great things and sustain them long-term. When schoolwide change is undertaken in an environment that fails to trust teachers and focuses more on making sure we are complying and conforming rather than building understanding and capacity, it is doomed to fail.

This is not a suggestion that teachers should simply be let alone to “get on with it”, but assuming that they are getting on with it, and treating them as trusted professionals by giving them some time and space to try things out, reflect on their effectiveness and plan for what to do next would go a long way to building goodwill and morale.

Phil Cullen 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point Australia 2486 07 5524 6443 cphilullen@bigpond.com
http://qldprimaryprincipals.wordpress.com         http://primaryschooing.net

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