In a developing world of instant information, students have more perceived pressure than ever before to lock down their future careers in the final years of their schooling. As the statistics show, however, few of these students are picking education as their chosen field. The reality is not much better for those that do, as the ABS state that around 52% of teachers quit the profession within the first five years of their careers. I believe the recent witch hunt of teachers perpetuated by the media is the leading cause of this.
This fact was discussed at PRAC-E’s recent Symposium II, where I asked experts in the field why this was happening. The discussion started as University dropouts were brought up, as well as the cripplingly low number of men in the profession, especially in early childhood and primary. Mr Tim Kotzur, who is principal of Brisbane's largest independent school, St. Peter's Lutheran College, stated that he believed it was because of Australian society's attitudes towards teachers, which is primarily based around the media's representation of it. We are all familiar with anecdotes of teachers being mocked or criticised at BBQs. One doesn't need much of an imagination to link this with school leavers' lack of enthusiasm about becoming a teacher.
I am not sure if I am merely noticing it more since I entered the field, but I have seen more than ever before a ‘witch hunt' of teachers in the news and media. I do not believe I am mistaken, as this burst of criticism seems to have coincided with the introduction of the national curriculum. I have seen with my own eyes, numerous news stories depicting education students as a bumbling lot of incapable morons. The Guardian ran a story recently that blamed teachers, especially early career teachers, for falling standards across all Australian schools. Just today, I saw a story from 9 News about the compulsory ‘Literacy and Numeracy Test' that all education students must complete before they are allowed to teach. Now, I did this simple test, and it really is a non-story in my opinion, yet 9 News chose to show this test as an impossible gauntlet that these inept pre-service teachers will be whipped into shape by. They even chose to run the painfully obvious angle of ‘young teachers being forced to go back to school’. The story failed to mention that this test is just a glorified box checker, as several years of University education is proof enough of a person’s literacy or numeracy capabilities. The story also ignored the fact that this test has literally been around for years, and is by far nothing new. Instead, it has been tramped out again to be used as another scapegoat for the declining standards across schools. The politicians have even fallen victim to this mass hysteria. With the ALP deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek promising to the Sydney Age, an investigation in the standards of education courses if they are elected.
Through my own experience, teachers are very rarely the problem within schools, and it is all too simple to point to them as the issue. In fact, teachers are the unsung heroes a lot of the time as I have personally heard stories from teachers that an acknowledgment of the teaching staff is regularly forgotten at the end of year speech nights. One just has to look at the offices of the marketing, head of sports or admin teams compared to the staff room to see where values truly lie in many schools. Not only that, but the teachers are the ones that have to work incredibly long (often unpaid) hours, create infinite resources from scratch and sacrifice many weekends and evenings with planning and personal development.
Also, very rarely are young teachers the problem amongst schools. In fact, they are often a bright spot, introducing new ideas, the latest research and plucky enthusiasm. Yet, I have personally seen that this witch hunt of pre-service teachers has turned them into the biggest scapegoats of all. Now pre-service teachers walk into schools with the reputation of being inept and are often held to impossible standards. I have also heard horror stories of certain senior teachers who have been put under such stress because of this investigation into their abilities, that their prac students are thrown under the bus as the cause for their classes' poor behaviour or results. It is unarguable that the media's current regime is indeed not a positive and is turning the practicum experience into more of a masochistic gauntlet than a positive learning experience.
The problem with Australia’s education system is not the schools, and are certainly not the teachers. This mass hysteria caused over the new curriculum has made things worse and has especially turned young pre-service and early career teachers into scapegoats. If the media really want to analyse what's wrong with Australian education, they only have to look in the mirror. Australia's untenable relationship with teachers is the differing factor between comparable educational systems around the world. The difference between Australia and the often-compared Finland schooling model is not facilities or curriculums, it is the respect these nations give to the educators of their children. I learned an old saying in primary school, and this is you always attract more with honey than with vinegar. Perhaps the media and the politicians are the ones that need to ‘go back to school', as it seems they have forgotten this crucial life lesson.