Saturday, 1 November 2014

Am I the only person thinking this about the teaching profession?

I've been wondering.... wondering if we're becoming so obsessed with professionalising teaching we're losing sight of the individual teacher.

This may be controversial.  But I think if someone is not willing to stop and challenge this road we seem to be travelling, we may go too far down the road of no return.

New can be great; change and innovation is vital.  But we need to carefully balance this.  We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in this drive to professionalise the teaching profession.

I say this because we individualise, personalise learning for our students, but the currently climate is trying to make teachers uniform, cookie-cutter versions of what is supposedly a 'professional teacher'.  And I worry about this because I think we are beginning to squeeze what makes each teacher special out of them and consequently the joy of teaching.  I worry that we are not appreciating what makes each teacher special - their talents, their strengths, their weaknesses and even their own failings.

And some of the current generation of principals seem to be inadvertently leading this.  Some of them seem more intent on ticking the boxes the MOE demands than forming strong relationships with their staff, finding out what makes them tick.  As a result some of them are not always utilising the strengths and talents of the individuals on staff.  Parental expectations and pressures also put these principals in a difficult position, often in opposition to supporting their staff.

As a generation of old school principals retire I feel that the essence of teaching and the 'history' of the New Zealand education system is being pushed into the junk room in favour of the 'sanitising' of teaching into a profession of tick boxes rather than relationships.  Many old school principals tended to have an understanding of their staff and what made them tick, what balance of people were needed to having a dynamic learning school.  Some often made concessions or created opportunities to keep the best people in their school (not to say that many of the current generation of principals don't do this, because each principal is their own individual).

In the effort to create cookie-cutter professionals we also have created an issue with one size fits all whole staff Professional Learning Development (PLD).  Again this does not take into account the strengths or weaknesses each individual teacher has.  Whole school PLD has been the norm for the last ten years or so, and the current government killed other PLD options in 2009 when they cut funding to the Teacher Advisory Service meaning that the teacher who had a weakness in science could no long access a science advisor or attend a science course run by Advisory.

In the face of PLD becoming an expensive option for schools with the government's focus on outside providers (who charged an arm and a leg due to being private providers), teachers have fought back in providing PLD for themselves in what interests them, the needs that they have, and forming their own networks.  Educamps and Eduignites have sprung up.  These are based on the unconference format, which means anyone on the day (present or virtually) can present for five minutes on a topic - it may be an app, a website, an event, a product, a classroom programme, a learning experience.... there are no limits.  Educamps tend to focus on what will impact learning and the classroom, whereas Eduignites will broaden out into personal learning, sharing experiences that make the teacher the person they are, new opportunities, political thinking....

In 2013 @MissDtheTeacher established #edchatnz on Twitter fortnightly on a Thursday night.  It created a formal opportunity for teachers on Twitter to meet virtually and discuss various education topics.  This hashtag has enabled random conversations at any other point in time to spontaneously erupt.  This gives educators the opportunity to learn from each other as well.  Personally, I have learned heaps from this forum that has never come to my attention before and I have made new connections, networks and friends as a result of Twitter, Educamps and Eduignites.

From #edchatnz has come many other hashtags for specialist areas in New Zealand education, such as for science teachers, geography teachers, English teachers, PE teachers, primary teachers, principals..... schools are creating their own hashtags to encourage professional discussion.... There was even a conference (in an unconference style) held in early term 3 at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  This is real time learning, real time PLD, driven by the people interacting with each other.

Yet is this form of PLD recognised in this current drive for professionalism that teaching is experiencing?  Is the individualisation of what each teacher needs allowed to breath?

As part of the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTCs), we are now expected to do a Teacher Inquiry.  How many of us actually know how to do this?  This has stepped up in the last couple of years, more schools are paying attention to this as they recognise it as needing to be part of the appraisal process for each teacher.  But I have an issue with this.  I don't know how to do this.  Has any PLD on this been supplied in any school I have been in?  Not while I've been there.  I think I should make my teacher inquiry "what is a teacher inquiry and how do I do one?"

Then there are the companies that are helping schools to revolutionise their appraisal systems and provide the teachers guidelines in how do teacher inquiries and evaluate their professionalism and skills against the RTCs.  I heard about one such company this week.  I am not going to name the company, because there is still so much I have yet to learn about them and the system they have, so these are my initial responses from the little I've heard and comprehended. 

There is a matrix of sorts that a teacher is assessed on.  Let's say they were poor at replying to emails.  This could drop that teacher from being considered an advanced teacher to an amateur teacher despite the relationships they have with students, their planning and programmes and how effective they are and the teacher's contribution to the 'corporate life' (I hate that term in the school setting) of the school.  If you are not doing professional reading, you are considered an amateur.  And then there were a variety of other things from any individual's life outside of school in their personal and family lives that could reduce your professionalism to amateur level.

This came through my Facebook feed on Sunday morning from a group I belong to called Badass Teachers or BATs (the USA group).  And this is where I see these appraisal systems leading to, making value judgements on teachers using student assessment data and scores from teacher performance matrixes to give an evaluation score and label to a teacher that is completely separate from the reality of the classroom interactions, relationships and learning.

So I have an issue with where we are going into New Zealand in how we evaluate teacher performance and why, because teaching is an art, not a science.  It is about relationships that are formed, bonds of trust and affection and respect that make a classroom an effective learning and teaching space for students and teachers.  When we sanitise and cookie-cut the art of teaching, not only does the joy of teaching disappear, but the relationships will suffer: teacher:student, teacher:teacher.  Do I spend all my time on returning emails so I am judged to be a professional, or do I take the time to interact with students and observe their interactions in that time before the morning bell goes off?  Should I never read a Wilbur Smith novel or a Women's Weekly magazine again?  Should I go home and be a hermit and never have any personal life experiences where I may ruin my professional reputation by accident?
And where will these evaluations lead in the long term?  We all know that Hekia Parata (Minister of Education) has performance pay in her sights, despite denials after her initial slip of the tongue.  Do we want to help advance her vision of performance pay in education?
As teachers, are we failing ourselves, our own standards, by letting the art of teaching become a science of teaching?  Are we down trading from the joy of teaching to the professionalism of teaching?  Are we ceding that being a teacher is more important than being a family member, a friend, a participant in any sporting/cultural aspect of the community, union/political activist?  Are we "blanding" the teaching profession?

I leave you with a few pictures to inspire your own thinking, whether you agree with me or not, and some of these pictures may be contrary to what I have written even.  The whole purpose of this post is to ignite thinking, ignite discussion and conversation, to challenge the reader's thoughts.


  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts, you are provoking a valuable conversation for NZ educators and decision makers to consider.

  2. Great to hear I'm not the only one having these thoughts, particularly about teacher inquiry. Sounds great in theory, but does it mean doing a research project or just trying things out in your teaching and reflecting on them? The assumption seems to be that we will just know this.

    1. It's like the action research we had to do for Prof Prac 4 at T Coll - do this, we won't explain how to do it so you really understand and you'll be bloody lucky if you actually have a real experience to do it on, but just do it - that's how I remembered that.
      Teacher inquiry is kinda the same. Do this because it is part of your appraisal, but I won't tell you how it's supposed to be done, give any PLD or models from you to work from, and I certainly won't give you any time to do it in - sorry, what was that? You wanted sleep and a life? Sorry, you're a teacher - that's not in your weekly timetable and planning - it just isn't possible this school year.

  3. You are so right in your musings. Your views echo how I am feeling, especially regarding Teacher Inquiry. It is a bit like telling our students to do some research; we can't just introduce them to 'Uncle Google' and expect them to get on with it - they need to be shown how to do this explicitly first! The same when shifting pedagogy focus. 'Inquiry' will not cut it. Teachers need strong leadership and expertise first and foremost, with our individual styles and strengths acknowledged alongside. Fabulous blog - thank you :)

    1. I think introducing inquiry to our students was poorly done too. The ICTPD was hijacked by inquiry learning and consequently I don't believe we have gained the full benefit of either.

  4. Well written and thought provoking. I am a relatively new teacher and I often feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. Each year new things have been added to my workload but no one takes the time to fully explain what I need to do and how. One size does not fit us all. With all the preaching about students individual learning styles, it would be nice to be considered an individual as well.

  5. It's one of the great ironies in education, that the teaching of teachers doesn't always (often?) follow best practice. How many PD sessions have you been in where no-one checks your prior knowledge first, they just plod through their planned slides? And we are too often told to do something but there is no time to ask how or, more importantly, why. Teachers are learners, too - maybe we could be aught in the way we would expect students to be taught - i.e. well.

  6. I think your summation of our current appraisal system is rather biased and I notice that you didn't really put forward any solutions. I would like to hear your views so please take the time to answer a couple of quick questions - If you were the minister of education what would your appraisal system look like? What mechanism would you put in place for pay increases? How would schools deal with incompetent teachers?

  7. Sadly it's the same battles all over the what I say not as I do, do it for less money to achieve more, in less time, with top down global perceived needs assessment, without proper attention to actual individual needs...and get on with it or someone else will be found who will do more for less and won't question or rock the boat. Control is out of the learner's hands. Control is out of the teacher's hands. Control is in the hands of those who hold the purse strings. We can get it back. November 19th Students March in London. Every march, demo, rally, blog posting, article that highlights the problems moves us incrementally towards a more just educational system and world.