Teachers matter to us all

Posted By TEU on Oct 5, 2017 |

Today is World Teachers’ Day and here Sandra Grey, national president of the TEU, reflects on the impact good quality teaching has had on her life and the changes that need to happen to ensure all teachers enjoy pay and conditions that reflect their commitment.

World Teachers’ Day is a great chance to stop and reflect on where we are in our lives and on the people that have helped get us there. For almost all of us it will be a teacher that springs to mind – the very best of whom can inspire, empower and change lives.

For me it’s Franklin Bryce, my fifth form English teacher.

Mr Bryce introduced me to the lessons on humanity found in the words of the great bard. He gave me the freedom to explore texts about the 1981 Spring Bok tour protests and to learn about the importance of speaking out when we see injustice.

He also encouraged a group of 15 year olds as we put together a film to express our unease about nuclear weapons. He understood we needed and wanted to act collectively on an issue that mattered to us – and he empowered us to do so.

Mr. Bryce isn’t the only teacher I remember fondly but all my favourite teachers had one thing in common – they let me learn in ways that worked for me. They taught the national curriculum, of course, but it was through their creativity that they were able to inspire their students to seek the answers to questions large and small.

My favourite teachers taught me to enjoy the journey of learning as much as the destination. They were passionate and inspired me to critically engage in learning in every moment of life.

As is so often the case, I didn’t fully appreciate this at the time. It wasn’t until I became a teacher myself that I realised how skilful my teachers were.

Like all new lecturers my first ‘lessons’ for my students involved piling information onto a PowerPoint and hoping it would find its way into their minds. It didn’t take me long to realise that this was not what good teaching was all about.

Good teaching isn’t about standing and delivering facts, it about guiding students to find their own path in this complex world and to have some tools to help navigate the journey.

As I reflect on how good teaching has touched my life, I am reminded of Mr. Bryce and how disappointed he would be if I didn’t speak out about the great injustice currently scarring teaching and learning.

This means talking about the conditions of work Mr Bryce and many of our favourite teachers experience day-in-day-out. It also means remembering that a teacher’s conditions of work are our students’ conditions of learning.

Most of my formal teachers taught at a time when the teaching profession was trusted to set the curriculum and when teachers had the professional autonomy to deliver in ways that worked for students.

In the drive to ‘improve efficiency’ in the tertiary education sector, successive Ministers and bureaucrats have driven an agenda which has disrupted our ability teach and learn. They have taken away the trust and professional autonomy.

Governments have done this by setting as the objectives of the Tertiary Education Strategy ‘economic growth and labour market productivity.’ These goals are measured through rigid performance indicators which often push institutional leaders to abandon the core mission of teaching and learning. In forcing conformity in teaching and learning, in trying to push all tertiary teachers to bend to government ‘output measures’, successive governments have breached the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.

The recommendation notes: “Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching.

Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use curricula and methods contrary to national and international human rights standards. Higher education teaching personnel should play a significant role in determining the curriculum.”

For me, a lecturer of critical social policy, a subject area focused on human well-being, I see my job as one in which I should inspire students to challenge the very model which puts the economy at the centre of all we do – and then work to change the rules.

So on this World Teachers’ Day and each one after it, let’s all learn from Franklin Bryce and all those inspiring teachers who helped drive up our critical thinking skills.

No longer can we ignore the damage done to education by putting the economy at the heart of the education system. Collectively we must push our next government and institutional leaders into recognising our professional autonomy.

To this end, the TEU membership is putting together a briefing to the incoming government.

Let’s work with our politicians, our senior managers, our communities in the way good teachers work with our students.

Let’s get them to asking critical questions such as “What is tertiary teaching and learning for?” It is only if we change the rules – get rid of rigid performance measures, increase education funding, and put teachers back in the driving seat of decision-making – that we can all be the inspiring teachers we strive to be.

And finally, let’s take a moment today to reflect on #favouriteteachers and talk with others about what made them so great.

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