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PPTA Responds To the NZ Herald

PPTA Responds To the NZ Herald

By PPTA president Debbie Te Whaiti

Note: The Herald refused to publish PPTA's response to its editorial 'PPTA must take long, hard look'.

Sometimes you just can’t win. PPTA has often been criticised for negativity, so when we responded to a report on teachers’ perceptions of teaching we were stunned to be criticised for apparently reacting with ‘equanimity’.

Somehow, from a single sound bite the writer inferred that we feel it is par for the course for teachers to be ‘overloaded, inadequately rewarded, undervalued and insufficiently supported’.

Not likely. We’ve been highlighting, and doing everything to address, these issues for more than a decade. For a long time our voice fell on deaf ears because it was trendy to view consulting with teachers as “provider capture”.

What the recommendations of this report unfortunately fail to acknowledge is that the every day work we are doing is slowly bearing fruit. Since 2002, teachers have enjoyed guaranteed non-teaching time to enable them to do the raft of duties they now have to do outside the classroom. To quote one teacher, “I have the time, energy and enthusiasm to deliver more quality and interesting lessons (thanks to non-contact time).”

There are other benefits to secondary education that are now coming through a collaborative approach to decision making between unions and the Government. A specialist classroom teacher scheme is underway this year and it enables teachers passionate about classroom teaching to remain in the classroom and mentor their colleagues. It’s a scheme that some are calling the most significant development in teaching since Tomorrow’s Schools because it enables teachers to work in a professionally supportive way with their colleagues rather than the traditional top down approach.

A teacher sabbatical scheme will also kick off this term – providing an opportunity for some teachers to mix study and rest to refresh their teaching.

We are currently developing senior subject adviser positions to boost teachers’ assessment expertise, providing workload relief for some heads of department, and making improvements to teachers’ working environments.

This work is in direct response to recruitment and retention concerns that were established by the Ministerial Taskforce on Secondary Teacher Remuneration in 2003 – long before this report was published – and will support secondary teachers to develop their professional practice and ultimately contribute to improved student learning.

By apparently not availing themselves of any this work, the researchers have missed an opportunity to portray the secondary profession as dynamic, changing and improving. It’s hardly the positive account of the job they call on others to present.

Furthermore, suggesting that we should promote ‘teaching as a springboard to other potential careers’ is one sure way of knocking status off a profession – treat it as a bus stop on the way to a more salubrious destination. We believe teaching itself can be that destination.

The teachers’ perceptions report is still a useful document as it reflects the reality that teaching is a challenging job, and that the barriers of workload, stress and poor student behaviour make the job less than appealing for many people.

It also puts to bed myths about teachers working from 9-3 or getting too many holidays. Clearly, many people recognise teachers have difficult jobs – imagine having to manage 30 clients every hour from different backgrounds, with different problems and demands and varying abilities – it’s not a job for everyone.

The report’s recommendations around pay are also timely, and reflect the public view that teachers are not paid enough to compensate for the aforementioned barriers.

But nowhere does it conclude that “payment by performance” would solve the crisis in teacher morale. Nowhere has such a pay system boosted teacher morale nor improved teacher recruitment and retention. If anything, it is more likely to further fracture the workforce and lead to a rise in the anti-collegial behaviour the report decries.

The whole premise of performance pay is that you can identify good performance based on the results of students. That’s flawed because it assumes that all students in all schools come with the same knowledge and skills and learn at the same rate. It also assumes that teachers are the only cause of learning when the reality is that they are only one influence on students, albeit a very important one.

It’s also absurd to conclude that bulk funding – paying staff salaries out of a bulk grant to the school would allow schools to tackle teacher workload. The opposite is true; bulk funding ultimately drives down teacher salaries forcing schools to employ fewer and less qualified teachers. It also absolves from governments any responsibilities to resource schools adequately.

The tenor of the editorial leads us to conclude that it is unlikely the writer would have changed his or her tune regardless of our response.

Had we said the report depicted a secondary education system in crisis, you can bet your bottom dollar that we would have been criticised for being overly negative, or for causing the crisis.


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