Sustainable teaching

PPTA member Brett Smith shares his thoughts on what needs to be done to attract and retain quality teaching professionals.

Teaching is the hardest job I have ever undertaken

Recently I read Nigel Lowe's piece (Something needs to be done to retain our teachers PPTA News April 2018), I agree with many of his comments.I felt a degree of affinity with Mr Lowe. I have considerable non-teaching experience, and hold both practical trade qualifications and academic qualifications (BSc and BA) and I spent some years in the military.

Teaching is the hardest job I have ever undertaken -period. While I would like to wax lyrical about my own experiences, I have instead decided to concentrate on what I understand is one of the main reasons teachers are leaving the profession: Lack of Sustainable Practice in individual careers.

Teachers are given considerable responsibility for our youth

When I compare my work with friends who are not teachers, I am reminded just how wrong things are within the profession, and the need for total reform. In order to understand what is a sustainable career in teaching we need to equally understand this in the context of other careers, and what is acceptable practice in the workplace.

Teachers are salary workers, that is we work for a fixed income, yet teachers hours are not fixed. Teachers are given considerable responsibility for our youth, both in education, moral guidance and in pastoral sense. We support our communities and families, deal with several government departments, technological change and we have our own personal families and responsibilities.

Teacher workload has grown considerably since the introduction of NCEA

In practice, the workload of teachers has grown considerably since the introduction of NCEA. While most teachers I have spoken to have welcomed the NCEA review we can only hope the corresponding workload is reduced. Most teachers I have talked to, who have taught pre-NCEA, have stated their non-teaching workloads have increased dramatically. Equally, they state non-NCEA paperwork has increased. Equally, they state that non-NCEA paper work has increased.

Many teachers (especially Heads of Department) will have this fresh in their minds NZQA required us to enter data on assessments standards and pre-moderation. In simple terms we are now doing the data entry job for NZQA! NZQA also wants teachers to digitally submit student work; one teacher I talked to spent hours doing this.
True, teachers were given a small incremental time allowance to deal with NCEA (non-contacts). However, this is not remotely enough. By way of example, I know a teacher who works 0.6EFTS, and she told me that she works 40 hours a week.

Even KFC train their staff

In most schools I have worked, technology is simply handed to staff, often after a brief introduction, and you are told to simply do it! In the real world, you would train staff to carry out their respective duties; even KFC train their staff.

Reporting needs to be simple and in plain words

Reporting is another bone of contention. The ministry requires schools to report to parent/caregivers twice a year. Some schools (boards of trustees and senior management) have decided this is not enough. Therefore some schools have doubled their reports, often in the number of times they report and the length of content. This is ironic, as one of the most common comments heard from parents is: 'I do not understand my child's report'.

This alone proves the need for simple to-the-point plain word reports and not the diatribe which some school report style guides require. Parents want the blunt truth, not something that makes the school look good and might head off any possible complaint. They want to hear: 'you daughter is reading one year behind, and will require additional support both at home and at school to correct this'. Instead they get: ..... (named year 10) is working a 4b. The parent (and therefore the teacher) must work additionally hard to explain what this means. Report simply, if the parent wants to know more -call them on the phone, or ask them for an interview time at the school.

Pastoral care takes up considerable time

Pastoral care now takes up considerable time. Teachers I have worked with mention technology has increased pastoral work through cyber-bullying etc. Equally, compared to 30 years ago, the numbers of families needing support have grown, and hence our pastoral workload.

Education has also faced a number of challenges: various so-called magic educational pills have been swallowed, with abysmal results; noted example include numeracy project and literacy. When students attend high school, they are often behind educationally, if their respective primary school has not dealt effectively with these changes. Value our teacher aides. Failing to provide enough teacher aides time to help students increases the workload of teachers. I have noticed just how hard it is to provide teacher aide time to students in need. So teachers often make the shortfall.

NCEA is no longer viable in its current form

NCEA has so many pitfalls and failures it is no longer ethically viable or dependable in its current form.

Schools and students have evolved to manipulate the system so much that employers cannot trust the system. Equally, NCEA does not follow the curriculum. We assess standards, not the curriculum, this needs to change.

Suggestions for how to reduce workload

Here are some suggestions, based on practical experience, of how to potentially reduce teacher workload; some of this is very broad and would involve government reform.

  • Short plain word reporting (I suggest 200 characters or less), twice a year only, invite parents to interviews and phone them.
  •  If senior management asks you to take on a technology based task without training -refuse, until the training is given, and ask for time to do this (i.e. more non-contacts.)
  • If senior management has a poor ERO report on an aspect, go over it with them because the 'fix' might induce more workload. Again ERO or the Ministry of Education may need to provide resources and teacher non-contacts to correct issues. Seek PPTA help if the issues are petty.
  • No NZQA in schools period. NCEA, This is the model I can only hope we move to: Level 2 and 3 only. Academic subjects 1 internal only marked 1-50; One national external exam marked 1-50; Practical subjects two internals marked 1-50 each. Achieved 50 (-C), Merit 70 (-B), Excellence 85 (-A). Internals and external written by subject associations; moderation of internals achieved by school clusters, national moderation every three years by collective. NZQA simply accept grades given -just like they do for ITOs. All assessment tasks must follow the curriculum. Employ the KISS method of process/thought/practice. 
  • Share/help/support fellow teachers; if something is unreasonable, say so.
  • Refocus on teaching and learning. Teaching is vital. Measurable outcomes for students is important, but they must be real, no smoke, no mirrors. 
  • Cut the unnecessary -question every form you are asked to fill, if it cannot be justified, not just in an intellectual sense but practically in the real world, ask not to do it.
  •  Take time for family – say no if the school work is getting too much. 
  • Do not accept more work for no money. Just say no.
  • Double teacher aide hours available, treble in high-needs/issue schools.

Remember this: If you do not have a sustainable teaching career, you do not have a career

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 May 2018 11:58