There’s an easy fix to improve teaching and lift student performance

Oct 5, 2019 by

By Julie Sonnemann –

It’s tough being a teacher. Stop sniggering – I’m serious.

For one thing, there’s the incessant swipes at your professionalism and worth: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” That sort of thing.

Then there’s the lack of understanding about how complex great teaching is. Diagnosing why a student hasn’t grasped a certain concept, and how to get them to experience that lightbulb moment, is no easy task. It might require revisiting a related topic from six months ago, or two years ago, or a related skill from another subject area.  Great teaching requires deep analytical skills and a sophisticated understanding of the subject matter, how to teach it, and how the mind works.

Low-scoring school students would be all-but barred from becoming teachers under a Labor government, in a bid to improve results in the classroom.

But there’s a fundamental problem in how teachers in Australia are supported to do their jobs today. Governments of all colours and over many years have left gaping holes in teacher support, stemming from the way the teacher workforce is organised.

Our best teachers are not given the day job of helping other teachers to improve. This means our current teacher workforce is less effective than it should be. It also pushes Australia’s best and brightest young people away from a career in teaching, as shown by a recent Grattan Institute survey of almost 1000 young people with an ATAR of more than 80. And it helps explain why Australian school students are falling behind their overseas peers in international tests on maths, reading and science.

Individual teachers aren’t to blame: they are undervalued and overworked. The real problem is that government policies in Australia place too little value on the development and mastery of teachers’ skills. Until this changes, we cannot claim to truly value teaching expertise.

A new report by the NSW Auditor-General has exposed major flaws in the way the NSW department monitors and ensures teaching quality in schools. Other states are likely to be similar.

A big issue – one the Auditor’s report only touches on lightly – is the lack of key workforce structures to ensure consistent high-quality teaching. In too many schools, it is no one’s day job to demonstrate high-quality teaching in practice or give meaningful feedback to teachers on how to get there.

Education departments offer no shortage of “high-quality teaching” definitions on paper. Teachers can turn to the national teaching standards or multiple frameworks and performance documents used in schools. But these documents are full of intangibles. There are too few specifics. And there is no one in the current workforce structure who has the dedicated time and role to enact them in daily practice to show, for example, why one lesson plan in maths might work better than another.

Source: There’s an easy fix to improve teaching and lift student performance

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