Are high achievers the answer to teaching’s poor reputation?

Oct 21, 2019 by

By Paul O’Shannassy –

I stopped teaching over a decade ago after 18 years at the coalface yet the comments still come. I have lost count of how many people I hardly know have commented disparagingly about teachers’ capabilities, the amount of holidays they get and their working hours. The profession isn’t held in high esteem.

The Victorian government recently announced incentive payments for teachers to work in the bush and Melbourne’s most challenging schools. This follows recommendations by the Grattan Institute  to increase teachers’ pay and target more “high achievers” – those who achieve an ATAR of more than 85 – to boost the profession’s status and education outcomes.

But I have my doubts that attracting high achievers is the panacea to our education issues. When analysing what makes a good teacher I don’t think it is a simple as being a high achiever nor do I think it is the most important thing (despite what a study or two might show).

I suppose it comes down to what “outcomes” you are measuring and what you want to improve. Sure, an acceptable minimum of academic excellence is required for teachers but without the other immeasurables, it is not overly useful.

I have vivid memories of my high achieving Economics tutors at University (see not all teachers do teaching degrees – another point to consider!) who were absolutely appalling teachers, yet most were PhD or Masters students.

So what is important? A moral purpose, intellectual curiosity, empathy, humour, collegiality, communication skills, selflessness, emotional intelligence, an ability to connect to young people, intuition and dedication.

Teaching used to be called a vocation and the “noble profession” where people felt a calling to undertake teaching and we need, more than ever, to attract people with these qualities.

If you struggle to connect with young people or don’t have a moral purpose, you will have a very short career in teaching. Your ATAR doesn’t measure this or any of the other qualities outlined above.

Will the high achiever answer the email at 9.30 pm from the curious student who is stuck on a task? Will the high achiever stay after school and help the battling student? Will they be able to pick up when there is something wrong with a student – or even care? Will they manage the kid whose parents are going through a bad divorce or who may be experiencing violence at home?

Source: Are high achievers the answer to teaching’s poor reputation?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email