Teaching and parenting have one thing in common: Both are much more complicated today than they used to be. The months of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic were concrete proof of that for many of us.
In The Drum, Meg Southcombe spoke about the lack of respect that many teachers experience in their work. It is true that teachers feel increasing pressures from the system above and from parents on the side. Moreover, there are more and more children who need special support and love in school.
It is easy to join Meg in calling for greater appreciation of our teachers.
The problem with Australian teachers is that they are overworked and underpaid. The former is the main reason why so many experienced teachers plan to change their jobs. The latter discourages many young people from dreaming of becoming a teacher. Unless we find ways to improve teachers’ working conditions soon, other current challenges facing the Australian education system will be even harder to fix.
Over the past decade, Australian school education has been on a slippery slope in terms of quality and equity in education outcomes. We are not alone in this downward educational journey. However, here, perhaps more than in other countries, people tend to blame teachers as the main reason for this.
Meg says teachers are professionals and that they should be treated as such by society. Two important conditions in any profession are missing for most Australian teachers in their work.
One of them is public confidence and authorities’ trust in teachers’ knowledge and skills to plan, teach, and assess their students. The second is a professional voice in society to inform the public and educate the community about the common purposes and goals of schooling.
I am a former schoolteacher from Finland. Although Finnish teachers experience similar challenges to teachers here, there are significant differences between the teaching profession there and here, as I see it.
Here are three things to consider from Finnish schools.
First, all teachers must have a master’s degree relevant to the school where they teach. This alone has elevated the respect for teachers in the same way medical doctors and lawyers with similar levels of academic preparation are respected.
Second, teachers have been given more professional autonomy and responsibilities in their schools, which has built trust in teachers as professionals. Trust is an essential condition for respecting and valuing teachers.
Third, teachers spend significantly less time on classroom teaching, which leaves them more time to collaborate and plan their teaching during school days. The lack of time that teachers spend together during schooldays is the most significant missing ingredient in Australian schools.
We must stop telling passionate young people like Meg, “Oh, you’re just becoming a teacher!” More than anything, all teachers in our schools today need support and respect.
Next time you attend a parent-teacher meeting at your school, don’t ask what your school can do for you; ask what you can do for your school. It’s time to start, and it’s free.