Who speaks for teachers?

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In my previous post, I noted that a panel event in Sydney was addressing the question of whether schools kill creativity and that there were no teachers on the panel. Instead, the panel consisted of two journalists, a musician and an education academic.

I made it clear that I had no objections to any one of these panelists airing their views. The topic is a bit of a cliche, in my view, but that’s beside the point. I welcome a diverse range of views on education and I welcome the engagement of people from across the community.

What I cannot accept is teachers being absent from such a discussion. I labelled it ‘latent contempt’ and I think this is a fitting description. Nobody is actively seeking to be contemptuous of teachers and nobody realises they are doing it, but we do seem to be a junior partner in the discussion. A few of us are wheeled out from time to time to be given awards and told we’re inspirational, but nobody’s really interested in our views.

David Roy, an education academic and author, took issue with my post about the Sydney panel event, both in the comments and on Twitter. His view is that Robyn Ewing, the academic invited onto the panel, used to be a teacher and is still involved in teaching education students at university. Moreover, as an academic, she is capable of providing a ‘wider knowledge and awareness of the issues as they come from both a practitioners perspective as well as a research/academic perspective.’

I suspect that many teachers wouldn’t consider an education academic as representing their voices. Teaching undergraduates is different to teaching Prep to Year 12 classes, not least in that there is little behaviour management required in the former. Anecdotally, many teachers complain about their teacher education courses, usually along the lines that they don’t practically prepare them for the classroom. There are clearly some excellent and enlightened education academics out there, but there remains the dark suspicion that some of them couldn’t quite cut it in the classroom and that’s why they are where they are. As one of my own lecturers self-deprecatingly put it, ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, teach teachers.’

But I thought it was worth checking-out my anecdotal hunch with an unscientific survey of my Twitter followers. The results are pretty conclusive:

Interestingly, I added the ‘Unions’ option as a bit of an afterthought. I have always belonged to a union and I believe in the value of unions. Nevertheless, education unions are often quite disappointing. As teachers, we want unions that will focus on pay and conditions, yet they seem to get themselves involved in educational policy, and not in a way that is particularly helpful. In areas where teachers would like them to act, such as on challenging and unsafe student behaviour, they are often conspicuous by their absence.

In my view, this confirms the need for teachers to start taking back the profession and talking on our own behalf. The process has started, so now is the time to push it to the next level. We should no longer tolerate the status quo that the Sydney panel exemplifies.

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10 thoughts on “Who speaks for teachers?

  1. I’ve got to agree on the question of an academic providing teaching input. One lectures or tutors uni students. One does not ‘teach’ them. They are supposed to teach themselves. Teaching chidren is a whole different thing, cognitively, communicatively and intellectually…and a darn sight more demanding. Being an academic is a doddle by comparison and would offer next to no insight on the topic.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s “a doddle” by any means. The discipline problems may not be there, but there are plenty of other issues to deal with at tertiary level.

      I do think, though, that it’s perfectly fair to suggest (as Greg does above) that the actual experience of *teaching* at primary/secondary level as opposed to tertiary is very different. Chalk and cheese, in fact.

  2. Same experience that I had several times trying to get my book published – “No one wants to hear from a classroom teacher”. (It happened eventually…)

  3. Teachers should be involved in the process. We are always the voiceless pawns in the process ready for the next in-service day to teach us the latest way of teaching something. This dis-empowers us immensely.

  4. I don’t see it as a matter of power. When they bring us in for that in-service, we are told what to do and how to do it by people who couldn’t make it happen in our classrooms. The bigger problem is that children are missing a day of school.

  5. well at least teachers get an education academic to speak on their behalf? Who speaks for the parents? Considering we’re the biggest stakeholder in education ,we’re the last ones to ever have anyone acknowledge us. Unless you need someone to coordinate a student bake sale, or a teacher appreciation day.

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