The ABC Of Why Teachers Are Responsible For All Our Failures, And Other Political Silver Bullets

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Last Friday, schools across NSW received their 2015 NAPLAN results. In case Spelling Bee put anyone under the illusion that children were clever (r-h-i-n-o-c-e-r-o-s, RHINOCERUS), we have been reminded by NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, that we’re not.

Essentially, we is stupid.

NSW is said to be 10 to 15 years behind countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Finland, despite all the hard work by Piccoli and his federal counterpart Christopher Pyne.

The entire state, nay, the entire country, owe these poor men an apology for not being s-m-a-r-t-e-r, SMARTER.

Well, this is at least the impression one would gather if they only read the headlines.

Titles included “NAPLAN: NSW ‘10 to 15 years’ behind the world’s best’, ‘Education chiefs warn students are not improving’, and ‘Lifting teacher quality the key to raising NAPLAN outcomes’.

In summary, NSW did badly, and without issuing premature blame, it was most definitely all the teacher’s fault.

It’s always the teacher’s fault.

Go badly in maths? Teacher’s fault.

Year 3 teacher says you’re disruptive? Teacher’s fault.

Kid steals penguin from the zoo and hides it down his pants on the bus home? Most definitely teacher’s fault.

WHY wouldn’t the teacher just check inside everyone’s pants upon boarding the bus? Bloody teachers.

Like most Education Ministers, Piccoli (pictured above) has never actually worked as a teacher. So that means he has likely never:

1. Sat patiently with a child with a severe learning difficulty

2. Been responsible for generating interest in trigonometry

3. Stood in front of a class trying to explain the nuances of the English language (gauge, fatigue, subtle, colonel, receipt, psyche, aisle… it is like English is joking. But it’s not funny)

4. Had to resolve conflicts that occurred over kik, askFM and iChat (WHAT are any of these things)

5. Explained to a student that chose, is just ‘choose’ with one less ‘o’, and been asked which ‘o’ you get rid of…

We’re not teachers, but we can imagine it would be fairly frustrating to face a constant barrage of criticism by individuals who have never stepped foot in front of a classroom.

Contrastingly, the Minister for Justice and Police, Tony Grant, served as a Police Officer for 22 years. Grant does not routinely undermine Police Officers. In fact, earlier this year, Grant blamed abuse confronting the Police force on ‘shithouse parenting’, slack judges, and you guessed it, teachers.

Well, technically he said ‘illiteracy’. But according to the Education Minister illiteracy is the result of poor teacher quality, so ipso facto: a policeman gets punched in the face? Teacher’s fault.

Teachers are the scapegoats for any shortcomings in our education system. Maurie Mulheron, the President of the NSW Teacher’s Federation, who is an actual teacher, who has taught actual students, in actual classrooms, argues that, “Many of our schools are akin to emergency wards in hospitals. No-one talks about the quality of doctors and nurses – they talk about the quality of health and the resources the hospitals need”.

Furthermore, reforms have characteristically happened to schools and teachers, rather than in collaboration with them. Funds are issued and cut upon the whim of the politician, and the syllabus, particularly Australian history, is a political plaything.

But if you ask Christopher Pyne, he will insist that a researcher once told him that “teachers are the biggest influence on student’s achievement”, and thus you do not need any more ‘resources’ aka ‘money’.

Piccoli and Pyne must be the products of exceptional maths teachers, because what they are doing is economically clever, albeit socially inexcusable. Pyne, in an article written at the beginning of the last year, argued:

“The quality of our teaching and quality of our teachers is seen as one of the important, if not most important, determinants affecting education performance…. A quality education system must be underpinned by quality teachers. The profession knows it, parents want it, our students deserve it and the nation needs it.”

Inspiring stuff. Except for the part where he says that teachers have been very bad for a while now, and despite his best efforts, he cannot sculpt a quality education system out of crappy teachers.

Apparently teachers are letting down parents, students, and, well, not to exaggerate, but the entire nation. You know how everything in the United States is Obama’s fault? Teachers are Australia’s Obama.

Can’t get a job? Thanks TEACHERS

Kicked your toe? Thanks TEACHERS

Nation goes to war? Thanks TEACHERS

If we weren’t so angry, we would almost respect Pyne’s political manoeuvre to shift all blame for everything that goes wrong onto one of the most underpaid and undervalued occupations.

It is borderline genius.

To clarify, Pyne would have us believe that it is the individuals who educate our nation’s children, who teach them to read and write, and add and subtract, and speak languages and draw, and play the bloody recorder (now THAT, they owe an apology for), and understand their bodies and sexual development, and discipline and focus, who are to blame for students’ less than exceptional results.

It is the individuals who accept the wage which may mean they can never own a home in Sydney, or claim helicopter rides on tax, or go out to fancy lunches and get drunk on Fridays, who must work harder, and study Masters and PhDs which do not necessarily correspond to more money, who need to ‘be better at your job plz’ quote Mr Pyne.

Pyne might have had a little more credibility if he had read the research correctly.

The Conversation ran an article a few years ago, which clarified that whilst teachers are the biggest in-school influence, various other school and non-school factors far outweigh the influence of teachers. Funding matters, as does socio-economic status, and available resources.

The federally-funded laptop program, a Labor initiative that saw high school students receive a laptop in Year 7, is an influence that has largely escaped criticism. The reform was unequivocally democratising, but the jury is still out as to whether laptops assist or impair learning.

In 2003, Hembrooke and Gay conducted a study that concluded that sustained laptop use is not recommended given that it interferes with memory.

In 2007, Hu wrote in The New York Times that many schools had dropped laptops after seeing no educational progress. In 2008, Fried demonstrated that students who used laptops in class spent their time multitasking, and they posed a significant distraction.

Christopher-Pyne-1
Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne.

In 2010, Lovett published the article “Students using laptops in class do worse on tests”, and in 2014 Mueller and Oppenheimer revealed that taking notes on a laptop can impair learning, lead to shallower processing and is ultimately “detrimental”.

Joseph Wakim wrote earlier this month in The Canberra Times that these results are a symptom of “teenagers becoming ‘screen-agers’”, suggesting that laptops have compromised self-discipline, deteriorated hand-writing, encouraged lazy mistakes due to spell-check, limited research skills as a result of ‘Google’, regressed critical thinking into ‘mindless transcription’, and seriously limited our vocabulary because of our immediate access to synonyms.

Laptops were not the idea of teachers. They were thrust upon them, and they were told to ‘adapt’. Teachers now confront all the issues that accompany laptop use, from social media, to gaming addictions, to cyber bullying, to pornography.

We’re no ‘Education Minister’, but we do not accept that the alleged “dumbing down” of students is a result of teacher quality.

You know what this week is, Pyne and Piccoli? It’s Book Week.

Primary School teachers all over Australia are dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. We would take your argument more seriously if you were dressed as Voldemort and Humpty Dumpty respectively. Oh, and Joe Hockey can be Robin Hood, except he steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

There is a great deal that NAPLAN cannot test. Among them is enthusiasm for learning and teacher quality.

So it’s time for Pyne and Piccoli, who have fabricated the teacher’s fall, and criticised them for not doing it all, to get all the state governments and all those Liberal men, to try and build up the teaching profession again.

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