It seems the wrong-headed mentality about teachers and the best way to educate our young people has spread from the uninformed vitriol of the talk-back radio into the policy of the National Government.
Nowhere is their lack of foresight and blinkered ideology more blatantly demonstrated than in the deconstruction of our education system.
Let’s talk some truths. No one who has ever spent time in classrooms or staffrooms can be in any doubt that the vast majority of teachers are dedicated, hard-working experts in their field (or as expert as their limited time and lack of resources allows.)
‘Tired attacks’ are untrue
The tired attacks about ample holidays and a 9 to 3 existence just don’t hold water in the real world, and National’s harping on about teacher excellence at the expense of class sizes is insulting and disingenuous to the extreme.
Teachers today must deal with students overloaded with problems on an ever-increasing scale: the effects of spiralling poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse, negligent parenting, a wide range of behavioural and mental health issues, learning and physical disabilities… the list goes on.
All this, and they are continually being forced to comply with poorly thought through policy decisions that have seen their paperwork snowballing and time eaten into by the imposition of an assessment regime which has been rejected by experts all around the world.
Pathways are clear
If New Zealanders really want to see our young people succeed in their education and future lives the pathways are more than clear:
- Scrap the National Standards regime, which is all about teaching kids isolated facts to memorise, not how to think – and which, as a by-product, is the death knell for creativity. Schools already have perfectly good systems for monitoring achievement – using measures that really assess where the child is at. Education is not just about creating compliant fodder for the workforce. It is about encouraging informed and enabled citizens (no doubt why the National Party are so adverse to it!)
- Pour far more resources into good quality, free early childhood education (by qualified EC teachers), so our children arrive at school ready to learn – and use this as an opportunity to pick up and remediate any associated problems in the home.
- Certainly improve teacher training – it’s time would-be teachers were taught how to deal with learning disabled, behaviourally difficult, and special needs kids. (But this is not what National intends. They are going to cut the amount of specialist training would-be teachers receive and are decimating specialist roles.)
- Keep class sizes as low as possible. This, truly, is a no brainer. The fewer the kids, the more one-on-one time they get with the teacher. There is no doubt this is one of the most powerful tools of all.
- Create life-long learners and a hand-up to a second chance. Put funding back into community education and alternative education. Successful educational experiences raise self-esteem and empower people, lifting them out of poverty and changing their life perspectives and long-term goals.
- Don’t, don’t, don’t punish young people who want to go to university by shackling them with further debt through student loans. If we are to survive in any viable way as a country we need a well educated, resident workforce. Cutting students off before they can finish post-graduate study is sheer lunacy… for god’s sake, National goes on about us needing a high-end workforce yet are doing all they can to shut this down. Our universities are already out of reach to many. Do we really want to go back to higher education only being accessible to the rich?
- Voice some support for teachers. They are demoralised, overworked and undervalued – yet have, arguably, one of the most important jobs in the whole damn country. Performance-based pay is a recipe for division, in-fighting and dissipated focus. If National really wants to see the standard improve, give the poor people some practical back-up of funding, resources, professional development and manageable workloads. The money spent at this end would save us spending at the bottom of the cliff.
- Fund state schools… show a commitment to the basic tenets of accessible and excellent free education.
I go to a lot of schools and meet a lot of teachers. They work far harder than most other professions I know, and care intensely for the betterment of their pupils. To suggest otherwise is tosh. Go take a look. Spend a day or two in a low-decile school. These teachers are our heroes. It’s time they were treated as the expert professionals they are.