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An introduction to the teaching role and working conditions in society today

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Chapter 6 - The school environment - factors affecting teachers' morale, performance and status Chapter 6 - The school environment - factors affecting teachers' morale, performance and status Work load In evidence to the Committee teachers indicated excessive work load was the single most significant contributor to stress and low morale. A range of factors was described as contributing to excessive work load. One of the major factors was the 'overcrowded curriculum'.

The 'Overcrowded Curriculum' Curriculum requirements have increased as a result of community, educational, employer and political pressures.

Often quite small, but well organised, groups can succeed in having their particular interests included in the curriculum. A Tasmanian witness, [1] for example, related how, as a result of demands by one section of the community, fly fishing has now been included in the post primary curriculum of Tasmanian schools. At the same time as the number of curriculum subjects is increasing, teachers are chided for failing to devote sufficient attention to the basics. And it is never suggested that when a new subject is added to the curriculum one of the existing subjects should be dropped to make way for it.

This is very unsatisfactory for teachers and students alike. One of the solutions that the people identifying the problem almost inevitably come up with is, "Let's add that to the school curriculum somewhere".

No-one has been saying that there are other things that perhaps ought to drop off to enable new, important social priorities to be incorporated, and that is an ongoing issue.

I used to think, as a Queenslander, that it only took three shark attacks in the summer for surf swimming to be required as a curriculum component. However, in the last year of the Howard Government there have been three major impositions on the school curriculum. The requirement for an increased emphasis on literacy and its accompanying testing, the requirement in senior secondary years for increased vocational education components in the curriculum and the development of job-placement functions, and the promotion of the Keating Government initiative in civics education.

There has not been one statement suggesting the removal, or de-emphasis of any of the myriad areas which have become school responsibilities. Lack of Control over the Curriculum Allied to teacher concerns about the overcrowded curriculum is their lack of control over curriculum selection, development and implementation.

Their lack of control over other aspects of the profession will be discussed elsewhere in the Report.

This is a key issue. If teachers' input to curriculum issues is eroded, this will significantly undermine their professional standing. This issue was referred to by many of those who gave evidence to the Committee.

  1. Any business as big as a reasonable size school would have at least one accountant but school finances are essentially being run by bookkeepers with little formal accounting expertise.
  2. In other words, when focusing the campaigns for health in the strict context of demands for private health plans, disconnected from improvements in working conditions and health and safety policies, workers lose sight of health as a social right to be guaranteed by public policies, thus becoming vulnerable to the moves in the job market, which makes them oscillate between the condition of being employed and unemployed. Limiting the amount of working hours and including time for the preparation of pedagogical activities are among the determining aspects for the improvement of the quality of education.
  3. Formerly departmental staff were seen as supporting teachers. It concluded that a form of SBM [school based management] was occurring in Victoria but because of its top down approach teachers believe they have less ownership and decreased professionalism as well as lowered organisational health in their schools.
  4. Many teachers and their representatives identified inclusion policies without adequate back up as a major contributor to excessive work load.
  5. They must, in cooperation with teachers and as a matter of urgency, rationalise the curriculum and prioritise subjects to be covered. I used to think, as a Queenslander, that it only took three shark attacks in the summer for surf swimming to be required as a curriculum component.

There is almost no provision for genuine consultation on curriculum development, so our curriculum environment right now is frankly heading towards crisis. South Australian teachers have been removed from many of the processes in curriculum decision making. These decisions are being made at the centre and teachers do not have the opportunity to have input to those.

Statements and profiles and basic skills testing would be the two things I would suggest that teachers would find they have very little involvement in. In general, teachers and teacher experiences were not used to develop the state versions although the structure provides a framework which does allow implementation details to be developed at local level. Many [TAFE] teachers bemoan the down-grading in their traditional role of curriculum design and assessment - a de-skilling of the profession through more mechanistic and bureaucratic centralised assessment tools.

These have been opposed by many teachers as educationally unsound on the grounds that results have the potential to be misrepresented and manipulated.

Media coverage of recent national testing results suggests these fears are well grounded. Teachers recognise the value of testing for diagnostic purposes and are keen to use such results to enhance their teaching. But this requires an appreciation of the complexity of the teaching task and of the role of teachers, which are often not adequately understood. As a result the tests can prove counterproductive. Teachers stressed their willingness to be accountable but believed it important that the profession be involved in the accountability mechanisms and processes.

The assessment of student achievement is a very complex issue. We believe that the most recent statements introducing national testing are politically driven. At their centre is the implication that teachers are incapable of measuring what they do. It is our view that teachers are not afraid of measurement. They merely wish to ensure that one is measuring the right thing and the measurement process does not take precedence over the teaching process. Measurement is only a tool, preferably for diagnosis, not an end in itself.

It is only useful insofar as it informs teaching practice. It affects people in all professions and teachers cannot expect to escape it. Their concerns, as presented in evidence to the Committee, relate not to change per se but to the number of changes faced by schools and the inadequate time allowed for teachers to implement and evaluate them. Many teachers have faced more than twenty years of change - at an accelerating rate - and are cynical both about its rationale and about its effects.

Some commentators have referred to the impact on teachers of changes driven by education department staff unfamiliar with present classroom demands, and the self defeating nature of these impositions. As the gap widens between administration and teaching, between development and implementation, so too does the difference in administrators' and teachers' time perspectives.

Perceptions regarding the pace of change diverge more and more. Administrators compensate by strengthening their control.

With [stronger control] come[s] reinforced resistance to change and implementation among the teaching force: As they get caught up in the spiral of intensification, bureaucratically driven initiatives to exert tighter control over the development and change process become self-defeating. Many teachers thought the changes were politically rather than educationally motivated. They had a significant impact upon teachers' work load.

Taken in isolation, particular changes to the school curriculum may be readily explained and be popular with the community but, when all these changes are aggregated, we have a considerable level of discontinuity. The chopping and changing of the curriculum and its direction may provide governments and ministers with some favourable short-term press coverage and community support, but this can be at the expense of quality teaching and learning - a process that requires continuity, patience and perseverance.

More than 100 documents detailing policy changes, introducing support materials, introducing guidelines on various aspects of curriculum, student management and all facets of organisation of the school have come from our department in the five-year period.

So the rate and pace of change has accelerated phenomenally. Equally important is the number of non-core teaching tasks which teachers are now routinely expected to undertake.

  • Devolution is consistent with the move to deregulation taking place across the range of public and community services;
  • Teachers have had changes in vocational education imposed upon them;
  • The final document of the latter forum, named Axis VI Eixo VI , was dedicated to the enhancement of education professionals, which included training, salary, career and working conditions;
  • Consequently many are apprehensive about their computing skills and resist computer use in the classroom;
  • The exploitation of the teacher workforce by the governments, both federal and state, has become so ingrained that there are some members in the community who now demand the voluntary component as a right for students;
  • It is easy, in the current climate, for teachers to assume that they serve the bureaucracy rather than the bureaucracy supporting schools.

Many of these stem from schools' increasing responsibility for functions formerly performed by families and community and church organisations. Schools have become the first port of call for many families in crisis and in some schools teachers' welfare role threatens to engulf their primary function, that is, to teach. Teachers did not seek this role. Many commented that they were not trained and not prepared for it and received little support. This was but one context in which lack of training was cited by teachers as contributing to their workload.

Others are discussed elsewhere in the Report. But when faced by distressed, traumatised students they felt they had no option but to respond. The changing nature of families and society has increased the workload of teachers in trying to cope with the needs of young people, to deal with disruptive behaviours, to support students in times of family breakdowns, and to accommodate the integration of students with physical and intellectual disabilities within classrooms.

These additional expectations placed upon teachers. New patterns of school organisation, and especially the move to devolution and a more managerialist approach to school governance, have resulted in additional administrative responsibilities for teachers. They attend more meetings and produce and comment upon more documents than ever before. The work load of principals, particularly, has increased as a result of devolution. Research commissioned by the Victorian Primary Principals' Association in 1996, for example, showed principals worked an average of 61.

Chapter 6 - The school environment - factors affecting teachers' morale, performance and status

All of these tasks, referred to by teachers in evidence to the Committee as 'administrivia', reduce the time available to teachers for their central role of teaching. This is a major cause of teacher dissatisfaction and a significant contributor to the deskilling of the profession. My position is that such a shift can be no good thing for the status of teaching or the status of teachers.

Teachers presented a range of views on this issue. Some supported it but the majority considered it had the potential to undermine rather than to enhance the professionalism and status of teachers. The educational aspects of the debate have been overshadowed in recent discussion where supporters of the employment of more para professionals are suggesting that para professionals be employed in place of trained teachers rather than in support of them.

Such a scenario envisages fewer, more highly paid teachers supported by a large number of para professionals undertaking not only the non core teaching tasks, which teachers would be happy to relinquish, but many of their teaching tasks too.

The Committee's concern, on the basis of the evidence it received, is that proponents of such a view are motivated primarily by a desire to control costs rather than to enhance teacher professionalism or student learning.

Teachers are opposed to such a model, but not to the employment of para professionals as such. I an introduction to the teaching role and working conditions in society today that the exploration of the role of non-teaching staff in schools is very important.

Removing some of the drudgery tasks from teachers, and some of the other tasks which are very well performed by non-teaching staff in the schools, could release teachers more effectively for the role for which they are trained, which is teaching. They are of most use in special education classes and to support disabled students, and make possible the mainstreaming of some students.

A model where paraprofessionals work to a fully trained teacher as a general method of reducing personnel cost is no more than the deskilling of the profession and will carry a cost in terms of the quality of the education which can be delivered.

  • For one of the respondents it is necessary to work under a different logic, in a way that "being a teacher is not only giving classes" teacher B ; it is also part of the job to get qualified to prepare a good class, and prepare and correct tests;
  • I used to think, as a Queenslander, that it only took three shark attacks in the summer for surf swimming to be required as a curriculum component;
  • They must remunerate teachers adequately for their work and assist them by reducing class sizes and providing additional support staff, both for clerical and for welfare functions.

Such a situation is unfair to both teachers and students. It contributes to teacher stress and to less than optimal learning outcomes for students. Evidence presented to the Committee shows that such a practice is becoming more common.

Chapter 6 - The school environment - factors affecting teachers' morale, performance and status

It is most evident in subjects in which there is a shortage of trained teachers, especially in maths and science, and in rural areas where it is difficult to recruit subject specialists. But it is not restricted to those areas. The employment of higher proportions of casual teachers increases the possibility that teachers, sent at short notice to short term vacancies, will be required to teach in areas outside their specialisation. Teachers are concerned that the practice will expand as education departments attempt to plug gaps emerging in other subject areas and becoming increasingly problematic in rural areas.

Lack of qualified staff is not a new issue. Rural schools have encountered this difficulty on an annual basis. Attracting suitable staff and keeping them is a major problem in regional and rural schools in general and science faculties in particular.

There is especially a shortage in country areas. So we often have people teaching outside their area of expertise. This is a great concern to ASTA.

Without qualified teacher librarians managing school libraries, teachers and students cannot expect to access, retrieve, select and organize information in a critical and efficient manner.

Again, teachers have serious reservations about such an approach. These mainly relate to teachers' lack of training in vocational subjects and to inadequate resourcing and equipping of their schools to take on these new commitments. The Committee was advised [24] that in Queensland, for example, school teachers required to teach vocational education courses are to be given a two week 'familiarisation'.

  1. There have been many positive features relating to the widespread introduction of technology into government schools in Queensland.
  2. In other words, when focusing the campaigns for health in the strict context of demands for private health plans, disconnected from improvements in working conditions and health and safety policies, workers lose sight of health as a social right to be guaranteed by public policies, thus becoming vulnerable to the moves in the job market, which makes them oscillate between the condition of being employed and unemployed. These additional expectations placed upon teachers...
  3. Although many teachers have purchased their own computers [42] they have had to learn to use them on the job.
  4. Perhaps the most significant relates to the average age of classroom teachers.
  5. Regarding work overload, it is important to highlight that one of the issues in the struggle of teachers' labor unions in the country, and therefore of CNTE, was about limiting the weekly working hours, with the inclusion of time for the preparation of pedagogical activities. From the history of the subjects' involvement in the union during the last two decades it was considered that they were essential for the data collection.

Teachers have had changes in vocational education imposed upon them.