Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 3)

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
– Attributed to Henry Adams

This is the third part in a series of reflections on initial teacher education (ITE). The opening article in this series focused on options to change the way that pre-service teachers are brought into their ITE programs with a view to lifting the quality of teachers. This is, of course, a difficult task and furthermore is a very contentious topic. The follow-up article was an examination of my own ITE program and ways in which it could have been strengthened with the view to improving the quality of graduates by making it a more rigorous program, and by better preparing graduates for the real world of the teaching profession. Today’s article will combine two of the topics originally listed in my opening article as they are heavily intertwined; the value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere and the role of the Education minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers.

I have been told that the position of Education Minister has not always been the popular and visible that it currently is, and that education as a topic of social discussion has not always been the ‘hot-button’ topic that it has been in the last ten to fifteen years. A brief Google search with the terms improve teacher quality brings up these results. A quick perusal of the search results reveals that there is a general call to improve the quality of teachers. Searching within a variety of topics within the sphere of education allows you to see the discourse of dissatisfaction emerging. This can be seen in educational topics such as NAPLAN results, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the creative arts.

It is my belief that the news industry is responsible, in large part, for shaping public perception around the value and quality of education and teachers. Personally, I believe they do a reprehensible job of representing the teaching profession and the education industry through the continual publication of articles that decry the effort, the worth, the value, the training and quality of teachers.

The other side of it is the now high-profile portfolio of Education and Training Minister, currently held by The Honourable Christopher Pyne MP, also wields a great deal of influence in the shaping of public perception in regards to the education sector. There has been an increasing interest and importance attached to the annual NAPLAN testing as a supposed measure of teacher and school quality. I am unsure whether this has been socially driven by parents concerned about the education their child is receiving, or whether it has been as a result of ongoing politically determined importance. Wherever the impetus for the increased misplaced focus on NAPLAN testing comes from, it does seem to have originated, at least initially, with the (then) Education Minister Julia Gillard’s unveiling of the MySchool website in 2010. In 2009, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was established to oversee the implementation of the planned Australian Curriculum.

The rationale behind this appeared logical; to allow greater consistency in skills and concepts taught nationally, thereby simplifying the process for students and teachers to move interstate. There was an underlying issue with this premise. It is not a truly national curriculum. I am unsure as to other states, but the current curriculum documents here in NSW are not the Australian Curriculum. According to the NSW BOSTES site, “New South Wales joined with the Australian Government and all other states and territories to develop an Australian curriculum…[t]hat incorporate agreed Australian curriculum content.”  

This Australian Curriculum, as of today (June 16, 2015) has not yet been fully endorsed or rolled out. Yet in January of 2014, Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a review of the Australian Curriculum. At that point in time, not all curriculum documents had been written, endorse or rolled out. The results of such a far-reaching review would realistically not be expected for perhaps eighteen months after the announcement, to allow time for a proper establishment of the frame of reference, receipt of submissions from stakeholders, analysis of the data, synthesis of results and formulation of the resulting Review Paper. You would be incorrect in expecting that, as the Mr Pyne released the final report in October 2014

The Twitter conversation that sparked this series of articles included a comment from myself that “…we need an Education Minister who genuinely cares.” This was perhaps rather harsh on my part. I do not doubt that the Mr Pyne cares about his portfolio. The response I received was that “…I would like an Ed Minister (and this is fantasy) who relentlessly and publicly supported the teaching profession.” My immediate thought and my subsequent response to this comment was “…excuse me while I laugh at the absurdity of that ever happening.”

It is sad that the Education Minister is not perceived as being supportive of teachers. It is sad that the immediate response to an expressed desire such as that which was expressed to me is immediately met with sarcastic derision, as that is the perception that successive Education Ministers have fostered about their regard for education and teachers. I am unable to take seriously an Education Minister who instigates a review of a curriculum which has not been fully rolled out, let alone been in place for at least one full calendar year.

I do not know how to repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession. I suspect that the views held by Mr Pyne are binary to those held by many teachers. What does need to happen though, is a cessation of Education being used as a political football to score points with the voters with disregard for the impact on the education sector, on students and on teachers.

I would very much like to hear any suggestions as to steps that can be taken to help repair the relationship between the Education Minister and the teaching profession specifically and the education sector in general. Thank you for reading this article, and sticking with me after the mammoth article yesterday. Tomorrow